An evening of sheer music

The Planets-An HD Odyssey
Qatar Tribune

By Amit Newton

It's not everyday that you witness a standing ovation that lasts a good eight or 10 minutes.

The packed-to-the-rafters Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) Theatre was stage to the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra's (QPO) recent three-hour presentation Carmina Burana and The Planets: An HD Odyssey. After the performance, the audience could just stand there and clap and that is what it did. Correction: there were one or two shouts of 'Bravo!' too.

Conductor Alastair Willis, Soloists Anya Matanovic (soprano), Marcus Shelton (tenor), Jochen Kupfer (baritone), MDR Radio Choir of Leipzig Choirmaster Heiko Reintzsch and Qatar Phiharmonic Children's Choir Choirmistress Felicitas Fuchs were made to return thrice to stand stage-front and take a bow as people continued to clap.

Earlier, the evening got underway amidst a profusion of tail-coats, bow-ties, patent-leather shoes and swishing evening gowns on stage, as the musicians took the audience on a space odyssey.

Willis led the musicians through Gustav Theodore Holst's The Planets with an ease and emphasis that comes only with experience. Accompanying the music, were films and photographs by space researchers and NASA, encapsulating salient features of each planet.

The pin-drop silence was an education in itself for younger members in the audience of how to conduct oneself, while at the theatre. But that didn't stop questions from arising in little, inquisitive minds: 'There were only seven planets. Where is Earth? Where is Pluto?'

In the same silence it had to be explained that when the music was written (early part of this century), Pluto probably had not been discovered and that Earth is not there because we are (probably) observing the other planets from Earth.

The written score and its translation into actual music, meanwhile, stayed in a very healthy zone between soothing and peppy probably just how Holst would have imagined it, when he wrote it.

Mars, the Bringer of War had a very martial accent to it and so the drums and the bigger wind instruments prevailed, Venus, the Bringer of Peace was soothing and lilting, while Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity had a peppy, almost foot-tapping tempo to it, and Uranus, the Magician carried an unmistakable air of anticipation that a crescendo was just round the corner, which would bring out the big boom from the bass drum, accompanied by the clanging cymbals. Unfortunately, it never came.

What did come was Neptune, the Mystic and the ladies from the MDR Radio Choir, humming from the highest tier of QNCC. It was an experience both surreal and heavenly. A rousing reception met the musicians and the lady singers (still unseen), before the assembly dispersed to stretch legs, unbridle tongues and feed the palate.

When they assembled again, it was to hear Carl Orff's Carmina Burhana or songs from Beuren (short for Benediktbeuern a district in Germany's Bavaria). It had enough mirth to keep the house smiling through the performance, as singers from the MDR Radio Choir of Leipzig led the way, still under the baton of Alistair Willis.

While most in the audience may not have followed the lyrics but the performances of Soprano Anya Matanovic, Tenor Marcus Shelton and Baritone Jochen Kupfer were possibly the highlight of the evening.

Matanovic impressed with the emotion that she put into the words she sang, as also her range and natural vibrato. Kupfer, in his part as a drunk, was very convincing despite his clean, good looks and impeccable attire. Switching between falsetto and its modal opposite is never an easy task; Kupfer made it seem so.

But the pick of the trio would have to be Shelton, as much for his timbre, his singing, as for his antics on stage and off it too. While the other two soloists impressed, Shelton endeared himself to the audience.

However, a description of the evening's proceedings would indeed be incomplete if mention is not made of the Qatar Philharmonic Children's Choir. Dressed immaculately in white tops/shirts and black skirts/trousers, the young ladies and gentlemen (aged anything from six to 16), sang with aplomb along with seniors from Leipzig.

Even though it was a little cameo of a performance, right on cue, the little pipes and whistles chimed true, chimed sweet. Credit must go to German Soprano Felicitas Fuchs for selecting and training the youngsters. Maybe, just maybe, the little ones could have been given more visibility and more work.

When the evening's programme ended, the audience just stood up and clapped and kept at it, in appreciation of a wonderful evening of music.