The concert opened much the way any good concert should; with an overture. It was as if the entire frontier had opened up before the audience with the Overture from West Side Story’s cute yet epic musical arrangement. The piece moves between being all that a ballad should be and a quirky celebration of a new day with new possibilities. The experience was like going on a little journey, little only because of how quickly it seemed to pass by. Conrad van Alphen had the reins pulled tight as he moulded the music with his hands, leading the band into what was no less than utter orchestral awesomeness.
With the audience all revved up (although the crowd seemed to lack emotion) van Alphen returned with pianist Nina Schumann to tackle Gershwin’s playfully complex Piano Concerto in F Major. With a slight tilt of her head and the jagged contractions of her arms, Schumann pulsed with the music and each note seemed to heave with power. She was present and involved, and her hands and fingers moved with a possessed quality. The concerto was laden with quirky notes taking the audience on a journey through a day in American life. The quirkiness also lends itself to playful sounds, which is most apparent when you find your eyes darting across the stage in hot pursuit of where the clapping or strange tapping is coming from. But once the novelty had worn off I realised that Schumann’s fire had died down. She gradually faded into the orchestra and by the second movement Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F Major had been ‘corpsified’.
Luckily, one can always rely on a moody artist to produce something that is both capricious and kaleidoscopic. Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36 was no different, bringing Cape Town’s City Hall back to life and throttling the audience with its violence and grandeur. To my amusement I heard echoes of John Williams’ Imperial March piece from Star Wars, a piece in itself which inspired the music for hundreds of science fiction films and even games dating from the 1970s. Tchaikovsky nailed space music for later generations, yet within one symphony he moves from the deepest reaches of outer space to the warmth of soft, fairytale meadows.
The first two movements were filled with anger and sadness but the third had an overwhelming amount of joy and gaiety as if all had been forgiven. The finale was grand and festive, detached from the atmosphere of the opening. Luckily the band made a comeback, with their energy fully restored. Although van Alphen did not rekindle the precision he exercised in the overture, he was able to bring the concert to a wonderful close with Tchaikovsky’s boisterous coda.