Sep 21, 2008


Opéra de Lyon  

Concert for the 25th anniversary of the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon First appearance of new Principal Conductor Kazushi Ono.

Leonard Bernstein - Chichester Psalms
Christopher Ainslie, contre-ténor
Igor Stravinsky - Symphonie de psaumes
Manuel De Falla - Le Tricorne
Renata Pokupic, mezzo-soprano  

Extra: Johannes Brahms - first Hungarian Dance
The program is available for download here.  

The concert

Obviously, Kazushi Ono and I differ a great deal when it comes to music. His program, representative of his taste, was build around XXth century composers, among which only Bernstein has any kind of attraction on me.

I don't know why people love Stravinsky, I find his music utterly boring and unimaginative. The analysis of this particular piece on the program emphasized the last pages of the score as "one of the most beautiful piece ever written by Stravinsky: the pianos, the harp and the kettledrums slowly wave with three notes (E flat, B flat and F - mi bémol, si bémol et fa)". To me, this succession of notes is not musical at all, and definitely is not a highlight in any composer's career. So basically, I stopped listening carefully to this piece after a short while and waited for the intermission.

As for the Falla piece, amid the Spanish popular music influence, I noticed that violins can really make very ugly sounds - and furthermore do it on purpose.

The Bernstein piece was fascinating at times (beginning and end) - and the chorus was extraordinary (fantastic work as usual of Chorus Master Alan Woodbridge that we are so lucky to have since 1995 - and whose humility/shyness is very touching).

Ono conducted by heart the whole concert - for the Falla piece, the score wasn't even in front of him (but he did not open either of the Bernstein and Stravinsky scores). Whether this pratice adds anything to a performance and can be repeated with longer pieces (such as Prokofiev's The Player he will conduct later in the season) is highly questionable and frankly not really of any interest.

In an interview he gave to a local paper, Le Progrès, he said a conductor should be about sharing with the musicians and the public, rather than being authoritarian. I don't know what the orchestra thinks about him, and that opinion being just two weeks old, it may change in time, but one thing is sure: he did share quite a lot with the orchestra, musically speaking.

They played brilliantly yesterday (the only error I caught was a lack of synchronicity between the altos and the woodwinds on one bar in the middle of the Falla's piece, so that's clearly impressive) and, truth be told, I've never heard them play better.
The chorus here in Lyon always tends to surpass (by far) the orchestra; that's really the only time the musicians rose to the level of the singers. Their execution was inspired, focused (which can sometime be an issue with this orchestra), attentive to Ono's directions and extremely responsive.

Ono's conduction brought life, energy and that organic feel a orchestra can sometime achieve that drives me almost hysterical. There's truly nothing more beautiful than music breathing, with an internal rythm, an inner life that transcends the execution and the conduction. Well, Ono did just that, for his first performance as Lyon's Principal Conductor.

So even if I don't like his musical choices, the orchestra can only grow and learn from him - and that should benefit all their performances, whatever the score will be. So welcome to Lyon, maestro. May you always be as inspired as yesterday evening.
Marketing tips
The cake
To celebrate the orchestra, every musician got a flower at the end of the concert, and a birthday macarons cake was brought on stage (from Lyon's best, Sébastien Bouillet although I myself prefer his chocolates) as the chorus sang "Bon anniversaire".

Each spectator also got a macaron. Nice touch, as well as the cotillons part (a bad day to be sitting in the parterre).

I guess GM Serge Dorny had to make a speech at the beginning of the concert to mark the occasion and present Kazushhi Ono, but I can't get pass his lack of communication skills.

Anyway, the evening was the closest thing to an actual Opening Night at the Opera (although technically, due to the Biennale de Danse happening all over town, the season has already begun since a couple of weeks). So my question is: why not go the extra mile and promote the evening such as? It would have been nice, for instance, if the mayor of Lyon, Gérard Collomb, had made the effort of coming, as well as the major artistic actors of the city...

At least, the arrival of Ono did energize the Japanese community. I've never seen so many at the Opera (and I'm pretty sure Mrs Ono was the only woman dressed in the traditional Japanese style). At the end of the concert, the audience was equally excited - how nice it must be for him to have such a response after only one evening.

The parterre after the battle

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