Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Orchestre des Champs-Élysées at the Esplanade

Happily accepted the friends' gorgeous gift of tickets and a night out to Orchestre des Champs-Élysées' debut at the Esplanade under their 'Classics' series. Although their musicians have often been in residence and conducted masterclasses at our Yong Siew Toh Conservatory since 2013. It was only an hour of Beethoven; I was soooo okay with that. I was also curious about their artistic director and conductor, and founder Philippe Herreweghe.

Founded in 1991, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées is known for its choice of instruments which vastly influences the orchestral sound and its reach, and their well-paced speed, tempo and balance instead of rushing through each work. In an interview, Philippe Herreweghe speaks of how he feels about hitting this 25th Anniversary milestone of the orchestre, and how he wishes to continue bringing music to more people, and why he chooses to present and focus on Beethoven's compositions this year.

The chamber orchestra takes the approach of 'period performances', using replica instruments similar to the era of the works (mainly 19th century) they choose perform; say, wind instruments are without valves and keys, or say a harmonium over an organ. Frankly, it makes the strings sound less annoying when they're not on vibrato all the time. I honestly wouldn't know what the heck the differences are. I didn't live in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. Theories are theories, and beyond what museums tell us, I'm not professional enough to judge it by ear. Then there's this whole other discussion on how Beethoven's tempi hadn't always been correctly transmitted, i.e the poor sod doing the notation then didn't correctly assign the note value when Beethoven played. The composer was notoriously foul-tempered. What I do know is that they will sound different from the instruments we know, and those earlier ones are less sonorous, perhaps made to be played in smaller halls than tonight's venue.

Tonight was a fantastic presentation of Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. I was wondering how they could squeeze two symphonies into a one hour and thirty-minute show, inclusive of a twenty-minute interval. Oh Orchestre des Champs-Élysées did, brilliantly so. Quelle énergie, et quelle performance du orchestre! The dynamic Fifth was done in thirty minutes, and the superbly paced Seventh finished in slightly under forty minutes. It didn't feel hectic or hurried at all. There was even time for an encore with a short third movement from the often-neglected Fourth Symphony.

Knowing my penchant to avoid alcohol on nights before hectic gym mornings, the friends skipped the post-show drinks, and instead invited us over to their kitchen for supper. They had thoughtfully prepped food earlier. Homemade fishballs with kway teow and flavorful ikan bilis soup. Oh yesss. It was such a wonderful night.

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