First off, before I get into what may well degenerate into a rant, I have to say that this was a spectacular concert. The London Symphony Orchestra, Asher Fisch and Deborah Voigt peformed Wagner and Strauss (with a Beethoven interlude in the middle). We had a nice comfortable seat in the front-ish left of the Circle, albeit that we were still surrounded by the Barbican, and all seemed set for a wonderful night of music making. And then they let the kids in.
First to the concert: there were a couple of orchestral pieces thrown into the mix alongside Voigt’s substantial vocal contribution. There’s no disrespect intended to Voigt in saying that, in some ways, these were the best moments. The Fidelio overture was spirited, incisive and energetic in the right measure, the Entry of the Guests from Tannhäuser launched the evening with due bombast. However, the revelation was a wonderful detailed reading of Salome‘s Dance of the Seven Veils. Some of the calmer moments were amazing in their detail and incident, whilst the over-ripe, decadent grand moments where given full rein. There is a moment where (and forgive the attempt to explain) the section that ends with the ascending harp motives leads to a brief pause before the introduction of the main theme on rich low strings and woodwind: spine-tingling.
Voigt’s contribution was remarkable. She seems to these amateur ears to have a voice which is secure and exciting at moments, but somehow just stops short of that last notch of bright, incisive thrill that you can sometimes get. But there she was, surrounded by a bloody noisy band (in the Strauss especially), and still came out as audible above it. This particularly applied to the excerpt from Die Aegyptische Helena, which I could probably go to my grave without hearing again and it wouldn’t feature highly on my list of regrets. It was like Strauss was trying to get his own back on Korngold.
Abscheulicher was delivered securely but not so flexibly – this felt like a bit of an odd choice, albeit a welcome one. Du bist der Lenz from Die Walküre always seems a bit odd out of context; it sort of stops abruptly when you want it to run on into the drama that follows. Chrysothemis’s big number from Elektra was well-delivered but with some slightly odd chopped phrasing in tha last wonderful, soaring “Ich bin ein’ Weib, und will ein’ Weibes Schicksal.”
The star turn, though, was a tremendous, intense account of the Closing Scene of Salome that matched the wonders of the Dance that had gone before in every respect. Fabulous nuance, some chilling quiet semi-spoken moments, and reserves of power left for the big moments. Absolutely tremendous – one to remember for a very long time.
So let’s talk about the audience. You could tell immediately, I’m sorry to say, those that were in ‘on a scheme’. Apparently the Barbican is offering free tickets to under-25s. Guess what? You give someone something for nothing and they treat it like nothing. I heard a couple of disputes being resolved by means of hisses and shushes and subsequent muttering around the auditorium. A phone went off. Sweet papers were rustled. Seats were intrusively swapped. And a number of conversations were held. I had to ask the gayboys next to me to stop their conversation through most of the Entry of the Guests, and one of them in particular spent the performance flicking back and forth through his programme with the kind of insolent disregard for the disturbance that this might cause that is to be expected of any peasant forced to sit through something they resent. As you can tell, this makes me rather hacked-off.
What is the problem with issuing an instructional note with these ‘scheme’ tickets to explain the etiquette: talking, phones, jangling bangles
(a real bête noire). Hell, it’s not even etiquette, it’s basic civility: there are a hundred people slogging away to produce an artistic product that those around you are appreciating, enjoying, being moved by, reflecting upon. If you are bored, then f**k off at the interval, or between pieces if you can get out without disturbing people. And it isn’t only people on these schemes, I know, but in this case I strongly suspect that cause…
And why should people have free tickets anyway? You want to see a concert of top-notch international-standard music making? Pay a tenner, or a fiver, or three quid at least. Yes, these institutions are subsidised and should be focusing on developing new audiences; but giving seats away for free (as opposed to the nominal fees proposed) feels like taking that subsidy and pissing it away down the drain whilst, to add insult to injury, destroying the enjoyment and enrichment that those of us who are the CURRENT audience pay our ticket prices for.
Oooo, it makes me mad. But I managed to enjoy the wonderful performance despite this audience’s best efforts. Some people may not have realised it, but they were present for a performance that really was world-class. I suppose you don’t expect to get world-class for free, do you? So how would they know?