Daniel Hope in Spheres of Entertaining Boredom

GermanyGermany “Spheres”, 4 Seasons Recomposed: Daniel Hope (violin & conductor), Jakobsplatz Orchestra, Hubert-Burda-Saal, Munich, 18.3.2013 (JFL)

J.P.von Westhoff: Imitazione delle Campane
Gabriel Prokofiev: Spheres (World Premiere performance)
Glass: Echorus
Nyman: Trysting Fields
Gundermann: Episode 2 – Nachspiel
Pärt: Fratres
Vivaldi/Richter: Four Seasons Recomposed

Slightly modified logo of the Jewish Community Orchestra from Munich
Jakobsplatz Orchestra

Daniel Grossmann has been leading and shaping Munich’s little, innovatively programming Jakobsplatz Orchestra since its inception in 2005. Recently he hit upon the good (indeed highly necessary and long overdue) idea to also let other conductors lead the band: It ought to be good for the band, their experience and morale, and also mitigate their reputation as a toy orchestra for Grossmann (à la Mendelssohn, who got a chamber orchestra for his 12th birthday).

Grossmann could hardly have landed a more impressive coup than getting Daniel Hope as the orchestra’s first ever guest conductor. Hope (who looks a bit how Louis C.K. might, with a violin and minus the funny) is on the front end of a promo-tour of his albums “Spheres” and “Four Seasons Re-Composed” and needed a backup band for his project anyway… the Jewish community center’s Jakobsplatz Orchestra was ready, willing, and an appropriate fit for Hope, who likes to engage in a bit of ambiguous jewishy shpil & shtick. (Always reminds me of “The Yada Yada” Seinfeld episode: “…and this offends you as a Jewish person? / No, it offends me as a comedian.”). If Grossmann was nervous before the show about his orchestra’s performance, he need not have been. They did very well, including the co-soloists when they were asked upon. Then again, very little was asked of them in the repertoire—which relegated the orchestra to a slightly wasteful backup role not unlike using a great choir only to go “ah-umm” on two notes, alongside a starlet singer. There he was, Monday the 18th, going down his set list of songs, doing a chat’n’play along the way, in nearly perfect German. Right off the bat Johann Paul von Westhoff’s Imitazione delle Campane, which lends itself to anywhere and anytime, in any kind of arrangement… and it really does sound timeless. Or rather it seems to be foreshadowing (if there was such a thing) 20th century retro-minimalism (if there is such a thing). What followed was the (in-concert) world premiere of Gabriel Prokofiev’s Spheres, modern minimalist tic-toc that already set the mood for the Recomposed Four Seasons later on. Then Philip Glass’ Echorus, which is the good man at his Glassian best and better yet: a piece originally written for Menuhin which allows Daniel Hope one of his “did you know I studied with Menuhin?!” plugs. No. Really? Tell us more. Trysting Fields is Michael Nyman taking Mozart (specifically the Sinfonia Concertante) apart and reassembling it (not for the first time). It’s fun; more fun still is the Peter Greenaway movie in which it originally found use. An excerpt from Karsten Gundermann’s Faust II Reloaded was the epitome of excited violin trapeze-work above a carpet of calmly moving strings. Arvo Pärt’s evergreen Fratres (not a particularly clean performance, alas, with poor pizzicatos but impressive right-on-the-money flageolet notes) capped a first half full of very different pieces, all of which sounded the bloody same.

The ‘Max Richter-goes-Four Seasons’ album is great, if you give it half a chance. Much greater, incidentally, on record (with amplification and athmospherinization), than it comes across live. The swoosh of turning pages (not Hope, who uses a very fancy page-self-turning Kindle-like gizmo) is an element of reality that this seductive re-Vision of the Four Seasons does not need. What it needs is a car stereo and a long, late-night drive on the highway. Hope encored a bit from Summer and then, true to form (and place) his encore-staple, the Kaddish by Ravel. Yadda Yadda… a fun night, quibbles and all.

Jens F. Laurson