The temptation to go to visit Lucerne to hear Abbado conduct the Simon Bolivar Orchestra and meet so many friends was so great that to went there yesterday.
This was my first time in Lucerne which is a lovely very Swiss city with a view from the lake which is breathtaking. As a building, the KKL is very dark both inside and outside and the chairs are among the most uncomfortable I know. This being said, the acoustics are really first rate and one can understand why so many musicians are making of this place their work center.
The history of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra does not need to be told. It is a though-provoking example of music helping young kids to develop a collective discipline to build a better life. Now that they have so much success, I was wondering how many of the initial concept is still there and whether there is not a little trace of complacency in their playing.
There was an astonishing number of musicians on stage. I counted more than 130 for the Scythian Suite of Prokofiev. I was dreading this bombastic work which started really but really loud but ended enjoying it tremendously. It had swagger, energy and an Italian elegance. It was thrilling.
The Lulu-Suite of Berg was more problematic. It was a soft rendering that rounded many edges. The work had been indeed very rehearsed which led to a brilliant ostinato but the work requires sulfur, sweat and blood. Notes were there but is not there a limit to having this work played by a youth orchestra whose world is so far away from this ? (I could be wrong but the trombones had a rough spot in the first movement. Yes, one can play wrong notes on 12 tone music.)
The soprano was Berlin-based Anna Prohaska which lacked individuality. She did not sang-spoke the series of nein before the big shrill which had various members of the audience jump from their seat. The Soprano came back with Pamina's aria as an encore (what a great line to put on the singer's resume ...). Nothing wrong with it but nothing special either. What was very distinguished was Abbado 's revelatory brisk tempo allowing the music to breathe with no heaviness and no morbidity.
Tchaikovsky's 6 is a good choice for Abbado whom I remember hearing a moving soul-searching performance in Salzburg with the Berliner in 1993. The orchestra showed some of their limitations. They were brilliant in "loud" (for want of a better word) passages but could not sustain enough colours and sound in the softer passages. Woodwind players lacked a bit of roundness and probably the gravitas of the last movement escapes them somewhat the young players. This being said, there was a feeling of togetherness in the second movement definitely thanks to Abbado inspirational conducting and the third movement had a lovely flowing tempo with well-detailed string staccatos.
Abbado was on good form, elegant and energetic and to quote a dear friend said, not bad for someone who was nearly dead 10 years ago. Hearing him remains so special and I look forwards to the forthcoming June Paris concert.