Tuesday,  Sep 25, 2018,23:39 (GMT+7) 0 0
The Iceman Cometh
Bradley Winterton
Wednesday,  Dec 13, 2017,18:16 (GMT+7)

The Iceman Cometh

Bradley Winterton

The first review I ever wrote ffor the Saigon Times was of the Sibelius’s Violin Concerto performed by the 16-year-old Singaporean violinist Gabriel Ng. That was in 2010, and the event, apart from the young prodigy’s exceptional performance, was marked by Ng joining the first violins for the item that followed, Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

I went up to the gallery for the Elgar and found myself sitting next to Gabriel Ng’s father, who was making a video recording of the whole concert. He told me that when his son won a place at the Yehudi Menuhin Violin School he and his wife moved lock stock and barrel to London to provide their super-talented son with a UK home.

This was in fact my introduction to Sibelius’s concerto, and my second contact was watching a DVD of the work played by the French violinist Christian Ferras in which he appeared to break down in tears during the second movement. This was perhaps not altogether surprising as he’d suffered from depression all his life and committed suicide some years later.

My third experience was just last week, listening to it played on a very old recording by the famous Lithuanian-born Russian violinist Jascha Heifetz, with Sir Thomas Beecham on the podium.

In selecting this concerto, together with Sibelius’s Second Symphony, for performance in an all-Sibelius evening on December 19 in the Saigon Opera House, the HBSO have shown considerable discretion. The concerto is a masterpiece, albeit one that needs some preparation before hearing it in a live performance. The symphony, by contrast, is rapturous and easily-digested.  All you need to do is sit back and imagine the frozen wastes, the forests and icy lakes, of Sibelius’s native Finland in winter.

My first experience of the Sibelius Second Symphony was as a schoolboy. I was ill in bed with flu and, alone in the house, I listened to it over and over again. Outside a cold blue November sky was being criss-crossed by a plane whose white trails for me symbolized the frozen imagery of the music.

Saigon will hear Vu Viet Chuong, known in the U.S. as Chuong Vu and concertmaster there of the San Angelo Symphony Orchestra. It will be a real delight to welcome him back in the Sibelius concerto to the country of his birth.

Conducting the concert will be the young Scandinavian conductor Kalle Kuusava, quite a catch for Saigon. Appropriately enough he studied at the Sibelius-Academy, and he’s been active win Norwegian musical circles, as well as conducting opera at Russia’s famous Mariinsky Theatre.

The HCMC Ballet and Symphony Orchestra, and Opera (HBSO) have been immensely busy this month. Not only did they mount their Christmas production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker for three nights, then this Sibelius evening (a totally different proposition), but on December 29 they are reviving Die Fledermaus (‘The Bat’) for s a single performance. When you consider what these projects taken together involve it’s amazing. Not only are some 80 orchestral musicians active in all three, but the scenery for the ballet and the opera also has to be readied and put into place.

Sibelius’s symphonies have always divided opinion, but the first two are unambiguously Romantic and gorgeous. After that he began to experiment, not to everybody’s taste.

His reputation, too, has had its ups and downs. Twenty years ago, a friend of mine who reviewed new recordings for Classic CD magazine expressed a mild distaste for the Finnish master, preferring Shostakovich in no uncertain manner (well, he had written a book on him). Today, though, Sibelius appears to be experiencing a revival. This concert, anyway, will give Saigon concert-goers an excellent opportunity to judge for themselves.

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