Bruckner, the PPO et al.

16 04 2007

Last friday, a couple of college friends and I went to watch the season-ender of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at the CCP. They played two pieces by Anton Bruckner – his 9th Symphony and his piece for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Four-part Choir and Orchestra, Te Deum

Bruckner isn’t a popular composer – I’ve heard his name before, but can’t say I’ve really listened to his music – and if one were to judge on the basis of his 9th Symphony, it’s not hard to see why: It’s rather…boring. Between climaxes and low points, I found it hard to stay awake. I was actually relieved when it was over.

Te Deum, on the otherhand, is really nice. I had a choir and piano-reduction in hand, and it was easy to get carried away with every fortissimo that had the choir and orchestra really belting out the notes. It’s no wonder, therefore, that Bruckner himself considered it his greatest work, saying that if God asked him what had he done with the talent given him, he would present the score of Te Deum and pray that he be judged mercifully.

Oh, and I got to sit in the – ahem – President’s Box! The best seat in the house! From this mythical box (usually available only to those willing to part with some serious dinero), one can see everything, one can hear everything – which brings me to the negative part of this entry – including the mistakes.

Frankly, for an orchestra that is considered to be at par with the best in the world, last friday’s performance was terrible – dynamics and entrances were delayed, and the first violins didn’t really seem to be playing as a whole. In Te Deum, I couldn’t figure out why the tempo the orchestra was using was not the tempo the conductor was beating. In fact, it seemed like the orchestra was ignoring him.

This usually happens when a less-skilled conductor is at the podium…which begs the question, “Is the conductor not as skilled as the orchestra management would like us to believe?” and, “Who is to blame for a bad performance? The conductor or the orchestra?”

In my opinion, I would blame both. I hear from an inside source that the principal conductor often loses his place in the score – something absolutely fatal to a performance. If he has problems with his technique, he is quite simply not supposed to be at the helm of the country’s premeire orchestra. On the other hand, if the orchestra personally dislikes the music director, then with all due respect, onstage, in the middle of a performance, is NOT the place to stage musical mutiny.

I was quite disappointed, really…not with Bruckner, but at the farce that was played-out onstage: when the orchestra took its bows after the performance, most of the musicians looked bored, like they couldn’t wait to get home and watch TV. There was no passion, no conviction in the performance – no one seemed to be happy to be performing. When the conductor shook the hands of the section principals, it looked like it was done out of respect for tradition and not because he was really thankful. Frankly, if that had been my first experience with an orchestra, it would have been my last. No wonder.

And I ask myself, “Why?” Is it about money? Professional jealousy? Conflict of interest between management and musicians?

I don’t know. But I do know that I want my orchestra to do something the PPO is having a hard time doing nowadays: Change Minds, Change Lives.




3 responses

27 04 2007

And I thought I was the only one who was bored to tears by the Ninth. I even fell asleep for a few minutes, something which NEVER happens when I watch an orchestra perform. They were *that* bad.

4 01 2008

Nine months after you posted this, the PPO is looking for a new principal conductor. Why am I not surprised?

12 04 2008
Strangest Concert I Never Saw « Postcards from Far & Away

[…] comments echo the ones I made about the PPO less than a year ago…which you can read about here. If my own students noticed the same thing, then the PPO really needs […]

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