21 February 2014

The joys and perils of live classical

Two and a half years of living in the UK have afforded me and my wife quite a few opportunities to applaud some of our favourite artists. I've mentioned Arcadi Volodos, Valentina Lisitsa and Eric Whitacre before. Boris Berezovsky was a slightly hurried delight; Marc-André Hamelin showcased his complete mastery and superb musicianship; András Schiff, talking about and performing the Diabelli Variations, brought to mind the luminous memory of Daniel Barenboim's Chicago Beethoven masterclasses of almost a decade ago; Mitsuko Uchida was equally at home in Mozart and Messiaen; Stephen Hough (whose beautiful Schumann album is playing right now in my EarPods) offered a lacklustre Liszt (1st concerto) and an offensive encore (a badly played Chopin, in a Hungarian themed program); Cédric Tiberghien was the perfect companion to the effusive Pieter Wispelwey. And Midori was imperial in DoReMi.

Fabio Biondi's Europa Galante was almost beyond reproach; Lionel Meunier's outstanding Vox Luminis made us go back for their second London appearance; nobody does a fresher, more exciting Messiah than the Academy of Ancient Music; the Belmont Ensemble of London deserved better brass players on the night; The King's Singers in Salisbury Cathedral were electrifying; The Thallis Scholars in their anniversary concert at St Paul's were ravishing; Jeffrey Skidmore's Ex Cathedra is a worthy institution; so are The Cardinall's Musick, or the Temple Church Choir. The Choir of Westminster Abbey is definitely dwarfed by the cavernous abode of the famous dead. And yes, we also enjoyed non-classical performances by Straight No Chaser and The Real Group.

Excepting most of the events hosted at Wigmore, where one can still encounter the impudent wrapper crackle, and the occasional well behaved audience, I still curse the time and money so often wasted by idiot concert goers. The constant fidgeting and pen clicking right behind me at Cadogan Hall; the sonorous bracelets right across the isle; the unruly bunch of kids, whose chaperon couldn't be bothered, at the unforgiving Symphony Hall in Birmingham; the distinguished elderly lady next to me with an infernal tick-tock on her wrist; and, most shameless and annoying, the use of loud, sometimes culminating, passages to mask" all sorts of coughing. Shall I mention the slender pensioner who threatened to step on my phone, only because, at intermission, I was sharing with my wife some of the best pics from our earlier visit at the Manchester Art Gallery? Classical concerts can be downright dangerous in this gentlemanly country.