Damp Fireworks in Stirling

Even for those familiar with the favelas of Caracas, ending up on a stretch of waste ground in the middle of a council estate in Raploch must have been a bit of a teeth-grinder. At least there would have been sun in Caracas – and an audience. Here, beneath the glowering Stirling Castle, a couple of hundred brave souls sheltering from the wind and rain under plastic ponchos, determinedly turning their backs on a European quarter final, had come to hear the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezeula conducted by its charismatic musical director Gustavo Dudamel.

The concert, broadcast almost live on BBC4 on Thursday night, was presented by Kirsty Wark for no good reason except she can read an auto cue faster and more fluently than most. The material she had was gabbled at such speed and delivered at such a high volume that you felt she was keeping her chauffeur waiting, standing by with the engine running to whisk her back to her Glasgow mansion and a wee dram or two by the fireside.

The opening salvo was fired by the youngsters of Big Noise gamely scratching, blowing and thumping their way through the Rondeau from Purcell’s Abdelazar. ‘Some of them are as young as six,’ screamed Kirsty, and frankly it sounded like it. Dudamel kept beating time gamely with his lips stretched over his teeth in the semblance of a smile. This was followed by a more accomplished bash through Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, a splendid piece with which to introduce an audience unfamiliar with classical music to the art form and to Beethoven in particular.

One cannot say the same of the ‘Eroica’ Symphony even in the most clement conditions. To sit through all four movements while freezing cold and drenched to the skin was not something to which I personally would  have responded with unalloyed pleasure. The residents of Raploch (if such they were) applauded gamely after the first movement. I’m afraid this viewer slipped into the arms of Morpheus during the Funeral March (second movement) and so cannot tell how it all ended. With cheers, I expect: the Venezuelans know how to do selections from West Side Story which finished the programme.

What puzzled me about this  ‘kick-start to the London 2012 Festival’ (Radio Times) was a national newspaper awarding the concert its full five stars. Rattle and the BPO or Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra I could understand, but these players, accomplished and well- (over-?) drilled as they are, offer no serious competition. By chance, a friend had directed me the same day to an online video of Carlos Kleiber conducting the VPO in Mozart’s ‘Linz’ Symphony. I worship at Kleiber’s shrine but did not know there was film of him conducting the piece. I was, as usual after a Kleiber performance, left with the feeling that this was perfection, that there might be other ways to conduct this work but none I could imagaine, none quite so convincing, so utterly right and so joyful. Now that is worth a five star rating.

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