Friday, 21 September 2012

MacMillan in Grafenegg

The final concert at Grafenegg is always devoted to the composer in residence, and while looking over my photos of trees I see my review is missing a name, though Cristóbal Halffter (2010) is another composer-conductor.

There are more things I could write about James MacMillan, but instead a few words about the structure above, which was used instead of the auditorium this year and not because the weather was appreciably better. The Austrians have traditionally been suspicious of outdoor concerts, at least at the highbrow end, and I fail to understand why this space is tolerated. What we should hear is unidirectional – so if you weren’t sitting directly in front of that harp, as I was, forget it (same goes for the brass) – while the audience’s contributions are picked up from all directions. Every cough bounces around the concrete walls, gulps of champagne become like Chinese water torture, and the grassy areas around the Wolkenturm sound as if infested by Austria’s noisiest crickets. On the final chord of Tristan the previous night the local church bell started tolling loudly, though thankfully on F sharp. Thielemann shuffling around the podium was audible even in the more booming moments of Bruckner 7, while MacMillan reported he had bugs crawling all over his scores. To stop the wind blowing over pages, Grafenegg has kitted out the musicians with metal clips that, yes, fasten to metal stands, so there is the sound of a hundred mousetraps going off with every page turn. Balance is a joke, with only the strings really blending, and overall I’d rather have the appalling amplification switched off and risk an even drier sound. Or better yet, stop putting a decent concert hall to waste and move the entire festival indoors.

More Grafenegg photos after the jump.


  1. Try tiny Reinsberg for a nice outdoor music experience the next time. I went there in 2010 and found their Acis and Galatea lovely. Too bad I missed this year's Nabucco (or maybe not, I haven't looked up any reviews). In A&G, the stage floor was the same lawn that served as their parterre and parts of the ruins of the Reinsberg castle formed the back of the stage; in that case, the set was - surprise - a miniature version of Glyndebourne. I remember one or two moths flying through the scene, but no annoying bugs. Nor unwanted white noise. But a lot of fun after the performance (the dernière) when the cast jumped into the little river on stage - and a little spontaneous concert with songs from the various home countries of the artists afterwards.

  2. Thanks for the Reinsberg recommendation - I'd never even heard of the place, let alone performances there. I didn't have time in the end, but this summer I wanted to see Das Dreimäderlhaus at Langenlois, having never seen a production of it before and being fascinated by its kitsch, and the lengths it goes to in order to fictionalize Schubert's bachelor status as a wholesome and logically explained matter (why so pressingly, we might very well question). The Langenlois presentation would have been perfect too - very traditional, I heard, though you can't have skirt-chasing without petticoats, as Herr Sinkovicz would doubtless say.

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  4. Too bad I missed this year's Nabucco

    Why would any seasoned opera lover be interested in Nabucco? It really is a terrible opera. Why do people still perform it?

    (Sorry, "Va pensiero" is not a good reason)