Monday, January 06, 2014

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra: Epiphany Concert: Music from the Historical Silver Screen, creator: Peter von Bagh, conductor: József Hárs

Ivan the Terrible
Helsingin kaupunginorkesterin (HKO) loppiaiskonsertti: "Historiallinen valkokangas soi". Helsinki Music Center, Epiphany, the first concert at 15.00, 6 Jan 2014.

The duration of the concert was two hours, including an intermission of 25 minutes.

József Hárs, conductor
Peter von Bagh, creator
Petteri Evilampi, visuals
Riikka Holopainen, presenter
Gita Kadambi, general manager

Nino Rota: War and Peace (King Vidor)
Elmer Bernstein: The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille)
Dmitri Shostakovich: The Fall of Berlin (Mikhail Chiaureli)
Sergei Prokofiev: Ivan the Terrible (Sergei Eisenstein)
-- intermission --
Miklós Rózsa: Ben-Hur (William Wyler)
Arthur Honegger: Napoléon (Abel Gance)
Georges Auric: Lola Montès (Max Ophuls)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Sea Hawk (Michael Curtiz)

Peter von Bagh: "The Epiphany concerts of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra - we have managed about a dozen so far - have been dedicated to film-producing countries, sometimes to wide-ranging themes, and occasionally to great composers. This time the topic is one of the greatest - history, or even more generally: time. The arch of our eight films spans millennia."

"The films originate from just four countries, but the background of the composers is wider: the Russians Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, the Italian Nino Rota, the Hungarian Miklós Rózsa, the Austrian Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the Frenchmen Arthur Honegger and Georges Auric, and the U.S. American Elmer Bernstein. We are dealing with a film genre which has always inspired a strong presence of a great orchestra." (Peter von Bagh, translated by AA)

Since 1976 Peter von Bagh has been organizing unique, huge concert events with different concepts and varying organizations in the greatest concert venues of Finland. For the 13th time an Epiphany film concert took place with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

Historical cinema is a gratifying subject for a symphony orchestra. The two concerts in the 1700-seating music center were sold out.

Some of the scores were familiar, others unknown. Even the most familiar ones sounded more magnificent in the music hall.

The arrangements were successful. Nino Rota's War and Peace, Dmitri Shostakovich's The Fall of Berlin, and Miklós Rózsa's Ben-Hur were arranged in three-part suites with a sonata structure. Sergei Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible, Arthur Honegger's Napoléon, and Georges Auric's Lola Montès had a two-part structure. Elmer Bernstein's The Ten Commandments and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Sea Hawk were played in a single-part suite, a bit like an overture to an opera.

All eight selections were great. The most bizarre case was Dmitri Shostakovich's The Fall of Berlin, with its inseparable linking to the macabre Stalin personality cult. Immediately afterwards was played the music with the strongest independent value as pure music: Sergei Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible. It was the climax of the concert right before the intermission.

For the first time I heard Arthur Honegger's Napoléon, arranged from fragmentary remains. I need to hear it more. The most hummable music was, of course, Nino Rota's "Rosa di Novgorod". It was a popular tune in its own right in Finland, too, as a hit song recorded by many great singers.

A strong start to the concert was provided by the overwhelming emotion of Nino Rota's War and Peace. When the "Rosa di Novgorod" tune was playing there were tears in Natasha Rostova's (Audrey Hepburn) eyes. Also in ours.

An undaunted fighting spirit was on display in Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Sea Hawk. A rousing way to end the afternoon.

Hit by the flu, the maestro Peter von Bagh, himself, could not come, but his notes were read by Riikka Holopainen, with their irreverent remarks such as comparing Cecil B. DeMille's burning bush with an electric fireplace popular in the U.S. in the 1950s.

The Helsinki Music Center has not yet solved the problem of visuals. The slides were screened in triple projections (the same image visible from three angles), and while they were valuable illustrations, they did not do justice to the grandeur of the image.

As a celebration and a revelation of some of the greatest film music the concert was first-rate. The touch of the conductor József Hárs and the orchestra was inspired.

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