Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Echo der Stars"

Kuwaiti cable TV is an international mix of television shows that show the best and worst of many cultures. Last night it showed the best of Germany. “Echo der Stars” is the annual German awards show for classical music. To an American classical music fan, this was a pleasant surprise since classical music is no longer a focus of American culture. I do not understand the German language, except a few words, like danke, schnitzel, Leipzig, and orchester, but I don’t think and any of the award recipients thanked god for their award. In addition, there was no crotch grabbing, swearing, interrupting, or interjecting that someone else should have won the award. I am not passing judgment on those behaviors, just drawing a contrast.

I tuned after the show had begun but the first piece of music I heard was a Monteverde piece played on period instruments and sung by a soprano and a countertenor. It was beautiful. We do not hear many countertenors in the US so it was a treat to hear. Awards were presented to Placido Domingo and David Fray. Domingo is so skilled a vocalist that I marvel at the control he has in his lungs, diaphragm, and vocal chords. Fray is a young French pianist who is quirky. He sits in an arm chair, rather than on a piano bench. He apparently sings along with the music and also conducts the orchestra from time to time, although when he played his solo, he kept his flamboyance under control. His played “La Vida Breve” by deFalla. He obviously is talented and, apropos of nothing, he is tall, thin and handsome. He has nicely styled long hair.

One nominee was Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic for their China trip. There was a clip of Rattle coming out of a building with a crowd of at least 5,000 Chinese cheering for him. What a wonderful reception!

The show was live from the Dresden Concert Hall, which is a beautiful baroque facility with gold leaf everywhere. The ceiling of the stage has a series of moveable squares that are adjustable to improve the acoustics. One side is mirrored and when visible creates fascinating reflections of the orchestra and audience. There was a brief glimpse of the hallway outside of the concert hall. It looked as if it was straight from “Le Belle Epoque.” The Staatskapple Orchestra is the resident orchestra and its conductor, Fabio Luisi, won an award for conductor of the year. There was once quirky transcription of Bizet’s “Carmen” played by a saxophone trio and a clarino trumpet. I appreciated how unmusical saxophones can be, but piece was different and it challenged the ear.

The presenters, award winners, and audience were all formally dressed. There were even twenty-something people in the audience, which is not something we usually see in American concert halls.

I do have some frivolous observations. The first is that one of the masters of ceremony had a pompadour that must have been at least 6 inches tall. His hair swirled around his head until it looked something like a miniature Devils Tower. The second is that the concert master was bald on the top of his head with long red hair at the sides. He looked like Krusty the Clown. Finally, the award given to the winners looked to me like a cross between a meat cleaver and a mitre saw.

After the show was finished, I turned to the Kuwaiti Showtime cable network. There, in all of its glory, was a showing of one of the pinnacles of American culture, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

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