Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Siberia meets Verona at Avery Fisher Hall.

As I noted in a post a few days ago, Ossetian conductor Valery Gergiev is currently on tour in the United States with the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre. On Sunday and Monday, the tour came to New York's Avery Fisher Hall. Allan Kozinn of the New York Times has a review of Monday night's performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet:

Here’s a mystery to ponder. When Valery Gergiev led the Kirov Orchestra of the Maryinsky Theater in the complete “Romeo and Juliet” ballet score on Monday evening, in the second of the orchestra’s four Prokofiev programs at Avery Fisher Hall, the balcony was largely empty at the start, and there were seats to be had in the orchestra section as well.

Can it be that Prokofiev is a tough sell these days? Is the financial crunch already taking its toll on ticket sales? Were New Yorkers sympathetic to Georgia, giving a cold shoulder to Mr. Gergiev for his public support of the Russian invasion?

The empirical evidence points to Prokofiev: at the intermission a significant part of the audience vanished, leaving the orchestra section looking emptier than it does for an amateur choir concert. (Another reason might have been the Siberian temperatures and draftiness in the hall.)
I make reference to Mr. Kozinn's review because I was one of the hardy ticketholders who stayed past intermission and listened to the entire performance. Like Mr. Kozinn, I was struck by how many empty seats there were at the start and thought that it might have had a lot to do with the state of the economy. I would be surprised if the controversy over Mr. Gergiev's August concert in South Ossetia kept many people away; even if pro-Georgia music fans boycotted the concert, their absence was more than compensated for by the substantial number of Russian-speaking patrons that I overheard before, during and after the concert. My general impression - based on this performance as well as the last time I heard the Kirov Orchestra - is that Russians living in New York turn out en masse when the Kirov comes to town.

I suspect that some seasoned patrons stayed away from Monday night's concert because they knew - as I would find out - that concert performances of complete ballet scores can sometimes be hard to sit through without the visuals that the music was meant to accompany. (During the concert, I often found myself squinting at the program in the dark to try to figure out where we were in the "story.") To my mind, one of the most adverse parts of the experience was what Kozinn describes as "the Siberian temperatures and draftiness in the hall," which I wondered a great deal about while sitting in a surprisingly chilly seat in the upper balcony. If frustration with the program might have tempted some patrons to leave early, the cold in the hall must have offered even more encouragement. Though I'm glad I stuck around for the end of what was really a very good concert, I hope the heating is back on next time I venture down to Lincoln Center. AMDG.


At 11/12/2008 12:39 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I say this not at all in jest, but as a historicaly observation -- perhaps the cold of the auditorium puts one in solidarity with the listeners of Russian orchestras in bygone decades under the Soviet regime....though perhaps the USSR had more heating than one might give them credit for. Adeq. heating of public buildings is still spotty in China even today.

At 11/12/2008 1:53 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

You have a point about heating of public buildings in other parts of the world... I certainly found this to be the case when I was in Chile and Peru during the winter. Few buildings in either country have central heating, and when it's cold people basically bundle up and rely on space heaters. This is so even in public spaces - e.g. I went to a movie theater in Santiago where they set up a couple of space heaters in the aisles to try to provide a little warmth. Even with the heaters and the fact that most people kept their coats on, it was still a bit chilly. As for Avery Fisher, I wonder whether there were some technical difficulties involved - I would hope that the economic crisis hasn't hit Lincoln Center so badly that they have to leave the heat off during performances to save money.


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