Saturday 31 January 2015

Eric Vloeimans & Residentie Orchestra: concert review

Saturday 24 January in The Hague, Netherlands

I have caught odd glimpses of  Eric Vloeimans  on Dutch tv and I looked up a few of his videos before going to the concert and there are 2 things I knew were guaranteed: brightly coloured clothes and superb trumpet playing.

The great man did not disappoint on either count: his flowery shirt would not have been out of place in Carnaby Street in the 60’s but I’m not saying whether that’s a good thing or not. His trumpet playing is the stuff that dreams are made of: a warm sound, incredible technique and an excellent tone even in the very high register.

This concert took place in a live music venue which is more used to being frequented by people less than half my age who go there to get their ears wrecked by over loud dance music and their heads wrecked by chemical substances.  Most of the audience had to strain to get half a glimpse of the stage, and we were standing. All part of a worthy attempt by the city’s symphony orchestra to reach out to the community. A great idea, but if you have a symphony concert with a guest soloist who is heading for his 60s you attract an audience with an average age of 55+ who struggled up the stairs and all looked pretty miffed when we realized the few chairs available had been snapped up by those who had nothing better to do with their Saturdays than bag a seat 45 minutes before curtain up. Well there was no curtain and there wasn’t really room for all the players on stage, they looked really uncomfortable and it was a crush for the conductor and soloist to get to their places. I can’t help thinking we might as well have all been more comfortable in the orchestra’s base, the concert hall a few moments’ bike ride away.

Vloeiman is unusual as a jazz musician in that he tends to avoid playing standards and prefers to mainly play his own music. He’s doubly unusual in that his compositions use a diatonic language with melodies which are reminiscent of folk songs, rather than a jazz vocabulary. As a listener the sensation is of listening to film music which ranged from the plain to he pretty to the exquisitely beautiful, and which is enlivened in its better moments by the soloist’s inspired interjections.

On this occasion we heard, among others, Evensong Part 1 and Imaginings. At the end of the programme he played piece called something like Song for Syria which rose to a higher level of intensity, and the encore was a piece called Lex. From what I could understand of his introduction this piece is inspired by the story of a survivor of the concentration camps who was kept alive because he entertained the prison guards with his trumpet music. Vloeiman made use of his lovely range of tone production which includes a breathy effect reminiscent of the sound of a bass flute. At the end of Lex the breathiness becomes total and the sound disappears altogether: a very moving tribute to a war victim and an emotional end to the concert.
In between we heard 2 of Satie’s Gymnopedies. I can’t see the point of making chocolate box ad style arrangements of these pieces which Eric Satie wrote for the piano, but there certainly was an Oooooooh at the end which shows it touched the tickly bits of many of the (older) audience around me. There is no accounting for taste. I kept wishing for some of the jazz energy and power which I heard in Madrid at a concert in 2012 of Satie’s music by the   Afrodisian Orchestra  directed by Miguel Angel Blanco. Now that was jazz!

I felt sorry for the players of the Residentie Orchestra for 2 reasons while I was waiting for the concert to start. Firstly, because they had no room to breathe, and secondly, I felt especially for the 2 trumpeters. How does it feel to share the stage with such a luminary? In the end, from the first orchestral trumpet notes, played with mutes in Evensong Part 1, to the triumphal tones in Song for Syria, the trumpeters in the orchestra were superb, as were the rest of the players.

When I first came to the Netherlands I found the custom of having long speeches to introduce concerts really irritating. Now that I understand more of the language I find the custom even more irritating. On this occasion there was a presenter who had prepared a Prezi that included photos and some music video clips. He came up with some names which took us all the way back to the beginnings of the crossover of jazz to classical and so on, as he thought. The quick review included the Swingle Singers: high on search engines now because of the recent death of their founder. Unfortunately the main point of showing  a clip of their music seemed to be to smirk at their 60’s hair styles and clothes, not to recognize the significance of Swingle’s great achievement in making contemporary arrangements of classical music.

This historical resume took us so far back in history that we got all the way to the 60’s: 1960’s. Sadly, no mention of Scott Joplin, Ragtime pianist who composed an opera in that style, or Duke Ellington, who in 1929 was writing extended jazz pieces in a symphonic style such as Black & Tan Fantasy.  I suppose his presentation was there for entertainment rather than to inform, but still …..

I have shown Mr Vloeiman´s excellent clip with the Holland Baroque Orchestra several times this week and the young students have really enjoyed the music and admired his wonderful playing. It´s a moving connection of contemporary jazz with a simple accompaniment played on Baroque era instruments, plus accordion.  You can find the link on his web site.

Anyway, I was thinking about Joplin and Ellington and the origins of jazz in the USA and my mind went back to a concert in Madrid years ago, 10 years or more, by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra.  What a fascinating night it would be to put together Marsalis and Vloeiman on stage. They are almost the same age, born in 1961 and 1963, both are working in extended forms in a classical sense, and both of course are superb jazz trumpeters. What a tantalizing prospect!

If it ever happens, Mr Vloeiman will have to ditch the flowery shirt: from what I have seen, Mr Marsalis doesn´t play the trumpet better, but he has a much more classy wardrobe.

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