This year marks the launch of the Buma Classical Convention which took place in Utrecht at the impressive TivoliVredenburg. The venue was perfect for the event, with many floors of exhibition space, a number of different sized concert halls and cafes throughout the large building. I was fortunate enough to attend the final concert the Edison Philharmonic Jukebox, which follows a formula that has proven popular with mainstream audiences. The concept is that the audience decides what gets played. Essentially, two options are presented to the audience who then clap and scream to determine which piece is played....I kid you not.
The appeal of this concept is obvious with the boisterous atmosphere, popular classics, casual dress and mixed ages. The venue included standing places in the front, for younger audience members, where beers were being consumed. The pieces played included the most popular, well known works, therefore guaranteeing maximum appeal. The Rossini William Tell Overture, Bizet Toreador and Ducas Sorcerer's Apprentice were all on offer.
The event was televised, so there were frequent interruptions while the presenter did a number of takes. This added to an already bizarre event. 15 minutes in, no music had yet been played, but we were all laughing, clapping and having a good time, so who cares. Clearly this was not intended to be the traditional classical music concert. I fear that some of the purists were scoffing by this stage.
The Radio Philharmonic Orchestra participated enthusiastically. The orchestra dress code was more casual than usual, I counted only one bow tie and multiple members wearing hats of various descriptions.
Round 1: Bizet Carmen Toreador aria vs Rossini William Tell Overture. The Rossini won marginally, no doubt helped by my enthusiastic contribution. The orchestra played the only the fast, famous section in a brisk, cleanly articulated manner which had the front row kids and beer drinkers bobbing up and down enthusiastically.
Round 2: Khachaturian Sabre Dance vs Shostakovich Jazz Suite, which was the only piece which would be played by the orchestra's saxophonist. The choice was clear as we all wanted the lovely blond lady saxophonist to play. The orchestra did a wonderful job with a lush string tone. The trombone played with wit and charm. The saxophonist performed admirably, deserving her standing acknowledgement.
I was surprised to see Daniel Hope called on stage to receive an award. He has certainly done a lot to promote classical music. His presence lead smoothly to round 3.
Round 3: Vivaldi Four Seasons Summer vs Vivaldi Four Seasons Summer recomposed by Max Richter. I have featured the Vivaldi Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter before on this blog and I saw it two weeks ago at the Sydney Opera House (yay for me). Given the lower than usual average age of the audience and the general tone of the evening, it was no surprise that the modern version won out. Daniel Hope brought all his charisma to a vigorous, captivating rendition of Summer, no doubt winning many new fans, I Hope (a little reference to the violinist, Daniel Hope).
Round 4: John Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine vs Shostakovich Symphony no.10 Allegro.The John Adams won this round. Even though I love the work of John Adams, I personally would have preferred the rousing Shostakovich 10th. Clearly minimalism has found a home here.
Round 5: Elgar Enigma variations Nimrod versus Debussy Claire de Lune. Elgar was the clear favourite, easily beating out Debussy. I was grateful that the conductor waited for the rowdy audience to silence before proceeding with a searingly beautiful interpretation of Nimrod. Testament to the professionalism and respect for the composers and the music from the conductor and ensemble.
Round 6: Beethoven piano sonata no.28 vs no.30 Igor Levit was on hand to play a choice of Beethoven Piano sonatas. No. 30 marginally beat out no.28. As expected, the piano playing from Igor Levit was impressive and grand. I can't imagine it was easy to concentrate with two tv cameras swirling menacingly past him throughout. The playing was sufficiently mesmerising to halt the incessant bobbing from the beer drinkers in the front rows.
Round 7: Sibelius (an arrangement of a piano melody which I didn't recognise) vs Arvo Part Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten. The audience were more or less cajoled into selecting the Part piece for this round, but it is a magnificent work, so who's complaining. With music this rousing, I'm not sure the endlessly moving spotlights were really required. I found them an unnecessary feature during this piece especially.
Round 8: Williams Theme from Schindler's List vs Morricone Theme from Cinema Paradiso. I noticed at this stage that some of the older members of the audience had given up on clapping to have their favourite piece played, no doubt because they realised that they were outnumbered by the younger audeince members. Daniel Hope, back on stage for this round, had the final say in which piece to play. Happily he selected to beautiful Theme from Schindler's List which he played with passion and dedication despite its brevity.
Round 9: Stravinsky Firebird vs Tchaikovsky 1812. With canon sounds to offer, it was no surprise that the Tchaikovsky was selected. The orchestra did an admirable job with the small section of the piece that they played.
Overall this was an enjoyable evening with some big name soloists and a quality, if accessible, selection of pieces. If colourful lights, beers, laughing and clapping is what it takes to appeal to and win new classical music audiences, then I'm all for it.