Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mozart at Bishops

I went, last night, to the Mozart concert at Bishops. Something big was going on at the field, which meant that traffic negotiation to get to the Memorial chapel was arduous - and of course, every other driver within the gates considers themselves more important than you, so common road manners just don't exist, as cars do quadruple point turns in front of you to get themselves a parking.

Then the frosty reception by the people who are selling tickets. "Oh, you want to BUY a ticket!", sniffed the grey-haired man behind the counter, as everyone else was rugby-scrumming their way to collect their complementaries.

The crowd was typically Bishops and ultra typically "Cairp Tahn". Let me try to describe: Evidence of wealth - old wealth - is everywhere. You don't see it in the cars. You don't see it in the clothes. You see it in the attitude. Wealthy (by which I mean this particular breed of old-wealthy white) Capetonians all know each other. It is a small world. A village. I sat next to a couple who were not born and bred, though they had been here a long time. They knew lots, but there were people in front of me who knew everyone, almost without exception. And when they didn't know them, they were not worth considering. I could hear their conversation.

"Oh", one would say, "who is Lucille with?" The question is asked to the room in front. "Treedie says he is from out of town". "Oh Gawd - not another one. Where does she find them?" "And who is the organist? Coloured bloke, I notice".

It is a chilly, exclusionary world of privilege, but within that world there is the camaraderie of the mirror image. The men are grey-haired, slim, unremarkably dressed, but with a confident chin and a signet ring on the little finger. The women are thin-lipped, severe and horsey. When they arrive late, they are put out that there is no available seating in the best spots for them.

The programme was even snippy. I had made the mistake earlier on, with asking how much it cost."It's free," came the response, with an edge to it which marked me out as someone who obviously didn't frequent such events.

But how is this as a programme note? "The Mass in C Major K317 was completed in 1779 and was probably intended for use during Easter. There are several explanations for the title "Coronation" - all of which are speculative and are perhaps therefore irrelevant." - and that, is that!

The other pieces were the extremely tedious Vesperae Solemnes De Dominica K321 - which to my mind Mozart must have done in a really bored moment, and the quirky Church Sonata in D major K144.

The thing about the Memorial chapel, (besides the off-key Bourdon Stop on the organ - which thankfully was not used last night, and the flickering ceiling light which needs replacement) is the sound is church-esque. Its not good for symphonic material, but it is ideal for church music, because the sound circulates and echoes and there is an immediacy with the choir which you never get in a concert hall. It is also a beautiful space. The stark white walls and the well chosen navy-blue and mauve colours for the sanctuary, give one a sense of cohesiveness, significance, gravitas. But the seats are hell on wheels and meant for occasions where one has the relief of kneeling or standing occasionally - but not for sitting for two hours. I saw several people trying to stuff hassocks into the smalls of their backs. It was not easy to get any relief. But it is better, by far, that the Groote Kerk, where not only does one have to deal with the straight-backed pews, but you are also locked into a kind of pew "paddock" as well, with a bunch of strangers.

Diedre Adriaans as the soprano, had most of the work to do. I thought she had far too much vibrato - which managed, in that environment, to sound completely manic. Elizabeth Frandsen du Toit gurgled along as the Alto. Given Nkosi (Tenor) was impressive and poor Njabulo Mtimkhulu (Bass) just didn't have much to do.

The choir was good and the conducting precise, but sometimes got out of step with the echo. The chamber orchestra was really good, albeit with someone in the string section out of tune in the first piece. But then, at the end, there was a semi-standing ovation. Some people stood. And that made others stand behind them to see what was going on. The performance really didn't merit one, so it all got rather embarrassing, with some people standing and others resolutely sitting.

But then I think of this. This is a boys High school. It has beautiful buildings. It celebrates a high musical tradition. It is a wonderful thing that one can enjoy a concert like this, with this kind of music. But the problem is, when it is tied, as it so clearly is, to race and class in the way it is here, who can wonder when it starts to be despised and hated. And that would be the most tremendous pity.

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