Tomorrow night my father must make an unexpected trip to Taipei. Apparently there is trouble in the Taipei office—it sounds like someone’s going to get fired—and he and two colleagues must make a hastily-scheduled trip to the Far East.
The departure from MSP is late tomorrow night, and the flight will take 19 hours and 35 minutes, if the flights are on schedule, which will put my father and his colleagues into Taipei at 6:00 a.m. local time Monday morning.
It sounds like an awful trek, and at least I am pleased that my father and his colleagues will travel first class. Perhaps they will be able to get some rest in the first-class cabin during the trans-Pacific portion of the journey.
Tomorrow, Joshua and I will go over to my parents’ house to help my Mom get my Dad’s things ready for the trip, and we will help take him to the airport tomorrow night. He hopes to be able to arrive back home next Saturday, if everything goes as planned.
While my father is away, Josh and I will stay with my mother so she has some company as well as some help caring for the dog.
The dog is a high maintenance dog—he thrives on lots of attention from as many people as possible. Josh and I will be on hand to lend assistance, checking his homework and making sure he gets to soccer practice on time, as well as to his bassoon lessons, which are going remarkably well. (However, his bassoon reeds are costing my parents a fortune, because he goes through them at a frightening pace! Couldn’t he have picked a brass instrument?)
Tonight my mother came into town and we all ate an early dinner downtown and afterward attended a Minnesota Orchestra concert. It was a nice way to prepare my father for Taipei (a city he loathes) and to give him a send-off of sorts.
Neville Marriner was the conductor, and the program consisted of Elgar’s Violin Concerto and Brahms’s Fourth Symphony.
The Elgar did not work because the soloist, concertmistress Jorja Fleezanis, lacked the personality and virtuosity necessary for its grand rhetorical gestures. She also lacked the emotional depth necessary to convey fully its heart-breaking sadness. I love the Elgar Violin Concerto, but its demands require both a great virtuoso and a great musician. Fleezanis, capable as she is, is neither. Her performance was woefully reminiscent of a faculty recital. It was a major mistake for the orchestra to assign such a complicated, demanding work to her—she possessed not a single one of the work’s varied requirements.
Fleezanis is married to Michael Steinberg, former program annotator for the Boston Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. Fleezanis and Steinberg used to live in Edina, but now they live in downtown Minneapolis.
It was good to hear the Brahms Fourth Symphony, even with Marriner on the podium. Marriner is not much of a Brahms conductor—he tends toward the swift and the light in Brahms—but the work is such perfection, one of the great masterpieces of the form, that the music cannot help but hold the listener’s attention, no matter the quality of the performance or the quality of the interpretation.
Brahms’s Fourth is one of my father’s very favorite pieces of music (and one of mine, too), and it was somehow fitting that he could hear a live performance of the work the evening before embarking on a long and painful business trip.
On Wednesday night, Josh and I and my parents went to Saint Paul to hear baritone Bryn Terfel in recital. Malcolm Martineau was the pianist.
Terfel has a voice of the greatest beauty and richness and power. He probably has the finest baritone instrument before the public today.
I’m not convinced that the quality of Terfel’s artistry matches the quality of his voice, but he nonetheless is an important artist.
The program was a peculiar one. It was filled with English songs, none of which were of high quality.
The first half of the recital was devoted to four songs by John Ireland, one song by Peter Warlock, three songs by Frederick Keel, two songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and four songs by Roger Quilter. These numbers all veered far too close to “ditty” territory, and hearing fourteen of them in a row was a real chore. I cannot imagine who or what convinced Terfel that these numbers were worthy of export beyond the British Isles, especially in large quantity.
The second half of the recital consisted of one Handel aria, one Mozart concert aria, four Schubert lieder, three Faure chansons, and six more British songs, in this case traditional Celtic songs (which genuinely were ditties, and pretty awful ones at that).
Perhaps Terfel felt that he had to “sell” the British songs to an American audience, because he hammed it up no end in the British numbers. He was so over-the-top—alternately cooing and roaring, rolling his r’s to a ridiculous degree, making faces—that I wanted to run up on stage and slap him.
The Handel, Mozart, Schubert and Faure, in contrast, were completely under-characterized. Terfel was too strait-laced in these items, as if he feared bringing too much musicianship or too much personality to genuine masterworks.
It was a bizarre recital, all in all. Nothing really worked. Terfel clearly needs to work with a coach to fine-tune his recital repertory, to work on his presentation, and to amend his platform manner, but I suspect that Terfel is not prone to take advice or direction from anyone anymore.
Josh and my parents hated the recital even more than I did. While Terfel was cooing and roaring, Josh and I my parents were groaning. While Terfel was rolling his r’s, Josh and my parents were rolling their eyes. While Terfel was making faces, Josh and my parents were making faces, too: grimaces.
I have always thought that one of Terfel’s problems is that he is not particularly intelligent. God gave him perhaps the best baritone voice of the last hundred years, but at the same time God short-changed him noticeably in the intelligence department.
Every time I listen to Terfel, on record or off, I always feel like I am listening to a voice without a brain behind it. Terfel possesses a certain general level of musicianship, to be sure, but there is nothing individual or penetrating about his work. Behind the beautiful voice, there is . . .vacancy.
Every time I hear Terfel, I say to myself, “This is the voice Hans Hotter should have been granted.”