I have had the good fortune to attend quite a lot of concerts at this magnificent auditorium, regarded by many as having the finest acoustics of all the older European Halls. Two of those concerts remain as memorable experiences.
The first was performed by the resident orchestra – presently on a tour which includes concerts in London – and was conducted by Eugene Jochum. Their main work was, Bruckner’s eighth symphony. Famous as an interpreter of his music, Jochum had recorded by this time all the Bruckner symphonies three times. By now he was frail and conducting from a seated position until at a climax in the last movement, he stood to herald the great clash of the cymbals. A gaunt but tall and erect figure he was unable to climb up the long row of stairs that lead to the orchestra from the artist’s entrance, returning for the applause. Instead he moved to one side of the orchestra and took his many calls by shuffling back to the podium, as the audience stood and cheered.
It was a privilege to be there.
The other concert was performed by the Rotterdam Orchestra and conducted by Alexander Lazarev. The concerto was Scriabin’s Piano Concerto, which I had never heard before and which he had himself performed at the Concertgebouw in 1911. Written in Scriabin’s more balanced years and before he became a somewhat scary visionary, this is a lovely work. Nicolai Demidenko was the pianist, and I subsequently bought a CD (on the Hyperion label) of the concerto, with the same artists but with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The work ends abruptly; suddenly it’s over, but there is a wonderful delicacy about all three movements and a most beautiful tune in the first that stays in the memory long after the music is over.
I am a fan of Demidenko, who now lives in this country, and have heard him on several occasions.
He is an intense artist, brooding over the key board as if it is a potential adversary waiting to be tamed. Recently I heard him play the Shostakovich 2nd and before the concert he was interviewed, coming across as a very different and engaging person for whom music is of deepest fascination. Responding to the applause after his performance, he gave an encore, which felt like a benediction as well as a bonus.
If you ever have any chance to go to the Concertegbouw, go! It is a wonderful experience just to be there. It was the place where the symphonies of Mahler first had recognition and is the nearest thing I know to a secular cathedral.