Photo: Jörg Schulze / Bayreuth Festival
Hans Sachs (left) at 2017 Bayreuth Festival
I wrote a little preview of the San Diego Symphony livestream entitled Wagner meets Mozart and mentioned that I didn’t quite understand how the concert hung together. After watching the livestream, I still don’t get it.
The concert started with an all-brass arrangement of the Act III Prelude from Wagner’s Meistersinger. Hans Sachs, the meistersinger, is awake in his study lost in thought after the riots which swept through the town the previous night.
Sachs has a lot to think about at this point in the opera. Themes such as the advent of old age, the plight of a widower with no children, and the possibility of new love that is nothing more than the wisp of a dream crowd his thoughts.
Sachs is being forced to accept the realities of his past and future. The music represents this with its solemn tones.
Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201
(Berliner Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado)
While this music is sometimes performed as a stand-alone piece, it doesn’t really work as a stand-alone piece in the same way the Act I Prelude from Meisersinger works. The Act III Prelude doesn’t work because it is more of an interlude than a prelude. It consolidates what has happened to Sachs so far and hints just a little bit at what is to come.
Following Meistersigner was “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung which means we go from contemplation to death. This is one of my all-time favorite moments from Wagner’s music but it simply doesn’t work as a brass arrangement. The music sounded hollow even though it was well-performed by the symphony brass and percussion sections.
After Siegfried’s death, there was an esoteric piece by Henri Tomasi entitled "Good Friday Procession" from Fanfares liturgiques. This music is written for brass choir and is taken from Tomasi’s opera Don Juan de Mañara. At this point in the opera, Don Juan is mourning the death of his beloved wife.
So far, this concert was as serious as a concert could be. Contemplation of life’s autumn followed by the death of a hero and then the death of a spouse.
I have no idea what the tie-in with Mozart was or how Wagner met him, as referred to in the title, but the performance of the Symphony No. 29 was like a breath of fresh air. The orchestra was just about the size that Mozart would have used to perform the piece. The balances were well done and the articulation was solid.
What was missing was any sign of enjoyment from the players. Livestreaming is a different animal than a concert presentation. In a livestream, the primary interaction is visual. In a concert, the primary interaction is aural.
Since the symphony is going to be doing livestreaming, the quality of the experience for the audience might be enhanced if the players, mainly the string section, emphasize their performance with some movement.
I know, I know, this makes me an impossible philistine but in a visual setting, the performers need to give visual signals to their audience. The sound isn’t going to carry the day because I’m listening on a phone or a laptop. If I’m in the concert hall, I could not care less if the players bob and weave in their seats if the sound of the performance is brilliant in the hall.
None of us know when we will be in the hall again so we’re stuck with a primarily visual livestreaming experience for the time being.