I've been to two fab concerts recently and thought I should review them so that I remember how good they were when I look back. The first was on Saturday night, and was a performance of the Bach St Matthew Passion by Ex Cathedra. My parents love this work and have several versions on CD; dad often listens to it with the text in front of him, following along. I've wandered through the living room while it's been on and heard bits of it, but never really known how the whole work is structured. I always thought it sounded a bit samey and difficult. Anyway, the best way to get to know a piece is to hear it live so when mum offered to pay for my ticket I said yes...and I'm so glad I did. This was just a magical concert, the like of which you don't go to very often, which kept me entranced all the way through a three-hour work. Ex Cathedra as always were superb, with singing of the very highest quality, and the soloists who came from within the choir were just amazing. The staging was quite dramatic, with the characters almost singing to each other, and the chap playing Jesus was so emotive and really made you understand this familiar story in a new way. As for the Evangelist - well if he doesn't make it as a professional soloist there's something wrong. He was absolutely fantastic. Towards the end of the work I felt like this was a far more meaningful religious experience than I ever get in church, and it really inspired me. As the promotional flyer said, "The concert you've been waiting for. The one that will move you to tears. The one that will break your heart and lift you up at the same time. The one that will make you resolve to see more live music. The one you will always remember. The one you didn't know you would love so much. This is it".
Yesterday I was back at Symphony Hall for the Czech Philharmonic. We had a Janacek piece first which I didn't know - mum and I both thought there was a lovely piece trying to get out but it didn't quite make it! The second half was Dvorak 9 which I didn't think was that inspiring although mum really enjoyed it and felt it was played from the heart. However, the piece that made the admission fee all worth it was the second piece in the first half. They wheeled the piano on, and then this gauche young pianist shambled out, wearing a cheap black shirt and ordinary black trousers, with long-ish greasy hair and a vague air of having wandered into the wrong building. He bumped into the piano stool while bowing, plonked himself down, hunched over the piano...and proceeded to give the most stunningly fantastic performance of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini. It was far and away the best live piano performance I've ever heard - often they're a bit woolly and going-through-the-motions. I'd always suspected that a Steinway could do a proper fortissimo and I was proved right by this - he absolutely walloped the thing, but with style and a beautiful tone, and the quiet bits were as lovely as the loud parts were thrilling. On top of all that he looked like he was enjoying every minute and genuinely loved the music he was playing, which is sadly all too rare among the soloists I've seen. I couldn't take my eyes off him for the entire piece, and at the end I had this huge involuntary grin on my face because it had just been so good.
It's concerts like these that mean I'll always be happy to spend far too much on tickets. The experience of live music is a unique and wonderful thing, and although you do have to sit through some dull performances it's all worth it for the ones that make your heart race and your lip wobble and lift you up in the way that nothing else can. I'm looking forward to years of amazing moments still to come!