The delicate beauty and quiet grandeur of Maurizio Pollini's performance resonated in the inner being of each person who heard him at ROHM. The concerts expressed the spirit of Claudio Abbado, the man who lived his life in the heights of music.
When the world-famous conductor, Maestro Claudio Abbado came to Muscat last summer, he found the city, its culture, and the Royal Opera House so compelling that he accepted an invitation to return with the Mozart Orchestra for a concert featuring his long-time friend and colleague - Maurizio Pollini, one of the greatest pianists of our time.
No-one envisaged that the hand of fate would intervene… and the grand concert at the Royal Opera House would serve as a requiem for Abbado, who, two weeks before the performance, left this earthly world for a paradise that is surely a realm of pure music. There was a natural element of pathos in the concert that drifted through the currents of the music and bloomed unseen along its banks.
"Any sound worth making must be a beautiful one"
Admired for his artistic genius and appreciated for his unpretentious approach, as well as his sincere respect for the ordinary person, Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) led some of the most important opera houses and orchestras of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries – La Scala, the London Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Vienna State Opera, and the Berlin Philharmonic. As we shall see, Abbado also had the power to command the planting of no less than 90,000 magnolia trees.
The eulogistic reflections the world press included a moment in childhood when Claudio was recognised by his musician uncle as "having the eyes of a conductor". When eventually he did become a conductor, Abbado was said to communicate as much with his eyes as with the baton. Claudio Abbado was described as elevating the art of conducting in the way he sculpted and shaped the music, to which he brought a tangible sense of intellectual depth. The laconic Abbado, who loved the silence of the Alps, declared, "Any sound worth making must be a beautiful one".
The Maestro's great love of nature was evident at his seaside property where he grew many thousands of trees. When he was invited back to Milan, Abbado accepted on condition that the city authorities direct the planting of 90,000 magnolia trees. They did. While the concert could not duplicate the greatness of Claudio Abbado, it did express the spirit of a man who lived his life in the heights of music. It was apparent in the demeanour of the musicians as they listened to a speech honouring their great maestro, how very much he was loved.
"That boy plays better than any of us jurors"
Maurizio Polllini has many characteristics in common with the legendary conductor whose genius infused the concert. Born in 1942 into a family where music, art and scholarship art were integrated with daily life, Pollini was sent to music school at the age of six, embarking on studies that would continue throughout his life. In 1960 while still a teenager, Maurizio was the youngest entrant in the International Chopin Competition – and won. Arthur Rubenstein famously remarked, "That boy plays better than any of us jurors."
Instead of going on the concert circuit, the young pianist began studies with the renowned piano master, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, with whom Pollini developed supreme technical mastery and acquired expressive restraint. Pollini's mature style is characteristically cool and aristocratic, entirely without mannerism or dramatic flourish. His focus is solely on the music. The only bodily expression Pollini betrays is in his face, which shows deep intellectual concentration and suggests the sublime nature of his feelings.
Gelmetti Conducts the Orchestra Mozart
The program last weekend began with the Overture to Mozart's first hit opera, The Marriage of Figaro, a light-heated story of love and betrayal composed in 1786. Distinguished conductor and composer, Gianluigi Gelmetti, was selected to replace Abbado in conducting the Orchestra Mozart, a daunting role which Gelmetti enacted admirably. Gelmetti is currently the Artistic & Musical Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, a post which he accepted at the invitation of the Princess of Hanover.
From the first phrases played, the extraordinary calibre of the Orchestra Mozart was apparent, as was the influence of Abbado - in the clarity and precision of its architectural approach and the generous articulation of the score. As familiar as the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro may be, it was magically interpreted as fresh and mysterious.
The Genius of Pollini and Mozart
Then came the moment we were waiting for… The great wooden doors at Stage Right opened and an elegant man in tails walked toward the gleaming black Steinway Grand. Though he traversed the stage in the slightly stooped fashion of someone who has lived longer than the seventy-two years that can be attributed to him, Pollini sat at the piano and played like a man whom time had not touched.
The piece was Mozart's Piano Concerto, No 23, K 488 in A Major – one of his most beautiful and complex works, with rapid fluctuations in mood that require exacting mental agility and phenomenal manual dexterity. Like many others in the audience, I had heard this concerto on countless occasions, but this time I heard it as if Mozart himself were breathing his genius into its swirling song.
Pollini's spacecraft hands seem to hover along the keyboard as his fingers seamlessly command the keys. In the adagios, his fingers fall like feathers. The sounds can be as light as a whisper or as clear as a bell. He touches the piano with infinite grace and the flying details of his finger work are imperceptible.
When the tempo changes to allegro con brio, Pollini's fingers are as hard and accurate as an arrow and sweep across the keyboard as fast and fierce as the wind in a storm. In all cases, Pollini's technical mastery is supernatural. His precision has been likened to a form of lapidary beauty as he cuts the notes like incandescent jewels.
The affection that Pollini aroused in the audience was palpable each time he came on stage to acknowledge the thunderous applause that seemed never to cease. The great pianist's grandfatherly gait, his aquiline face, and aura of distinguished elegance commanded respect… while the delicate beauty and quiet grandeur of his performance resonated in the inner being of each person who heard him that night.
Only Beethoven could come next – his Seventh Symphony, Opus 92 in A Major. This magnificent, architectonic work in four movements, which premiered in 1813, immediately earned Beethoven the title of madman, as well as genius. Because of its strong and exciting rhythms, Wagner famously called the music "the apotheosis of the dance".
The long opening movement (vivace) with its relentless thunder and crashing progression evoked battles at sea in violent storms. Composed after the victory of Wellington on the high seas, at a time when Beethoven had just recovered from one of his many bouts of ill health, it is an exultant work in unabashed celebration of triumphant freedom.
The second movement, an Allegretto of great beauty and power, proved so popular at the premier in 1813 that it was encored in its entirety - and to this day the Allegretto is often separately recorded.
One critic described the final movement (Allegro con brio) as "riding along at an irrepressible pace that threatens to sweep the entire orchestra off its feet and around the theatre, caught up in the sheer joy of performing one of the greatest symphonies ever written."
At the ROHM last week, it was the audience that was swept away, repeatedly calling for an encore, They were rewarded with a crescendo from the Marriage of Figaro Overture.
Next at the ROHM
Afghan Youth Orchestra – Today - Feb 15 at 4:00 pm
Afghanistan's first orchestra for young musicians will play classical Western compositions with an Afghan flavour.
Music by and for Children – Feb 19, 20 and 21, 6.00 pm
Young musicians and dancers from Oman, Tajikistan, Serbia and Russia will perform work from their homelands.
Enana Dance Theatre – Feb 25 & 26, 7.30 pm
The colourful Arab tale of the Hawk of Quraish unfolds through classical dance and folklore. Founded in Damascus in 1990, the Enana Dance Theatre takes its name from the ancient Syrian goddess of love, fertility, culture, art, literature and the moon.