Thursday, 15 March 2007

Message in a Bottle: Sting In Amsterdam's Concertgebouw

cyntillating sounds opus one

One of the world’s most beautiful people announced a concert in the world’s busiest hall: the press jumped on it as did the fans. Sting’s Amsterdam Concertgebouw concert was sold out in less than an hour, normal procedure for a stadium pop fest, rather unusual for the dignified classical temple. Pretending to again be 18, I too got up early that one morning in December and started emailing until I successfully laid my hands on four tickets. The sale indeed began exactly on the prescribed hour.
What to expect from the combination of John Dowland – who faithfully served Queen Elizabeth I – as sung by Sting- famed subject of Queen Elizabeth II? I must admit, being on the jury for the Edisons classical awards I had already received the CD and wasn’t all that impressed with this ‘musical soundtrack’ as Sting himself calls his discovery of the lute ‘singer songwriter’ from ye olde England. The tracks are caring in their way, but oddly enough, very chilly. And when good music gets a cold interpretation, all technical shortcomings are plainly front and centre stage. So listening to the CD, I often sat criticizing notes of out tune, strange dynamics, an unexpected lack of diction, and so onward raves the classical reviewer.
But placing the project in such a context is of course, ridiculous. More interesting questions are: would Sting fans become instant classical music lovers, can Sting reverse the aging classical audiences and bring in the youth, could his fame do something significant for Dowland, make him a media hype like Shaffer’s Amadeus did for Mozart?
A huge banner with his photograph graced the Concertgebouw’s famous front face with what every artist dreams of: the black and white diagonal sold out. The hustle and bustle on the street surrounding the hall was conform any production there; attractive, hip people, in a good mix of generations, lots of black clothes and no ostentatious furs, a true Amsterdam public. When music is amplified, terribly ugly red curtains mar the Concertgebouw’s beautiful stage, out of necessity; its acoustics first need to be dampened before they can be artificially controlled. That was actually the biggest question before the concert started: would this work for the ears at all - lutes and a single voice - through microphones in this fair sized hall? And that is the first problem actually, as lute player Edin Karamazov bites into Bach’s famous Toccata and his notes come to us from the string of speakers on the side of the stage. But we forgot that problem as Karamazov clearly had bitten of more than he could chew in the Bach, had a black out and basically faked his way through the tough bits.
Then he came out and all was instantly forgiven. The first few Dowlands were tentative, very reminiscent of the CD, but Sting’s presence and natural musicality quickly kicked in and took over. Half way through he started to even impress with his diction, rhetoric, fondness and understanding for the medium he was performing in. Lutenist Karamazov was at times a very good accompanist, but at times also very busy with tremolos which were supposed to enhance his virtuosity. Humbug. A small choir accompanied too, Stile Antico, young, sweet and not very exciting save the two marvellous bass voices Oliver Hunt and James Arthur. A hoard of photographers swarmed the aisle and were very annoying with their constant paparazzi clicking noise. Karamazov sensibly sent them away.
Must admit though, that the concert really took off as the encores began. Without an intermission, short song followed short song and declamation from Dowland’s letters for more than an hour. And all of a sudden it was over; Sting stood up and quickly (yet elegantly) left the stage.
The best was yet to come. Not only did the fans get their Message in a Bottle (hampered here by silly lute chords instead of the very powerful open bass of the original), but alternating Sting hits with Dowland makes real sense. The singer songwriter of yore meets one of today, and the universality of it is heart warming. A touch of Robert Johnson, the blues singer not the Dowland contemporary, a cheeky joke on Sting’s part, was delicious. Favourite for me was Fields of Gold whose melody, harmony and text are closest to the classical idiom: it was worth the wait.
I don’t expect to play the CD often here at home, but should gorgeous Sting again come to town for what he does best – live performance – I’ll certainly set my alarm clock to get my hands on some tickets.


Jonathan Marks said...

Yes this works fine. Congrats on your first entry in the world of blogs

jan en marieke said...

Nice Blog !! We wait on your review of a "windy" night in Elburg.
Kind regards Jan en Mariek