Sunday, January 29, 2012

Los Pajaros Perdidos de Lourdes

Jaroussky   Arpeggiata Jan 2012Tonight’s concert attraction in Lourdes is the improvisatory baroque ensemble L’Arpeggiata led by Christina Pluhar. Their album All' Improvviso was my favourite disc of 2006, and sits high in my pantheon of all-time favourites. Since then they’ve brought out one disc annually tracing music styles between the old and new worlds, instrumental and vocal pieces woven together unfussily to bring out the common strands of song and dance forms over hundreds of years.

In recent years they’ve employed the young French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky on a number of discs, most notably in music of Monteverdi such as this duet with Spanish soprano Nuria Rial “Pur ti miro”. The lead-in instrumental is the Cazzati ciaccona from the All’ Improvviso album, which is a bit of a signature piece for them:

CAZZATI Ciaccona + MONTEVERDI Pur ti miro

No advance program was supplied for tonight’s concert but it was bound to be weighted heavily towards their new album Los Pajaros Perdidos which is even more wide-ranging than usual, featuring music from South America from the baroque era up to the present times with Astor Piazzolla providing the title track. Quite honestly from my previewing of album tracks on YouTube and Spotify, this has to be my least favourite of all their works, and I have 11 albums. There are maybe 2-3 tracks I like but I would be kidding myself if I bought the entire album. I have a healthy amount of early to modern South American music in my collection, but this selection doesn’t sit well with my ears.


Anyway I had booked tonight’s concert last year before I had a chance to acquaint myself with the new music, but this is my first opportunity to see L’Arpeggiata live. I seem to be in the wrong hemisphere each time they’ve appeared in Australia and I would not miss this chance. A Toulouse concert was scheduled last year but even without any formal cancellation, the tickets never actually went on sale.

L'Arpeggiata with Philippe Jaroussky 
So, onwards to tonight’s event. After our pizza dinner in Lourdes, we drove back up the hill to the Cité Saint Pierre and followed a stream of cars into a big grass parking area, were directed into place and then walked on another 300m to the Auditorium Padre Pio. On the way through town we had a car with a very visible GPS display just in front of us. That car paused at the sign pointing the wrong way and I could see a head looking up, and then the car took off in the wrong direction. Poor lost people.

When the internal doors finally opened, we followed a crush of people into the auditorium proper (because queuing is forbidden under the Napoleonic Code) and were directed to the back of the room. At this point there was a lot of consternation – this was “free seating” – no? There were many many rows of free seats closer to the stage, and people from the 2 other doors were being directed into those seats.

After a little time I asked one of the staff what was going on. Now I’ve been to plenty of experimental performance pieces in my life, but never an experimental booking piece. It turned out that they’d decided to segment the hall crossways (parallel to the stage) into three sections – why? Who knows? A Psychology 101 experiment? This was not advertised: everyone paid the same price and were told it was unnumbered seating. The lady I spoke to said that the excellent acoustics would equalise it for everyone, despite the people next to me needing opera glasses to see the stage. No one could be moved as it was a sell-out concert. A few people stormed around to try to get better seats, but ultimately I think they were more aggressive queue jumpers than seat finders.

Jaroussky   Arpeggiata Jan 2012-001I looked over the concert program which begins with a number of works from earlier discs – like the Cazzati - and the final quarter seemed to cover the new Los Pajaros Perdidos material. I was very happy with that.

The grumbling from our section continued quite a while as the start of the show moved from 8.30 to 8.45 and then close to 9.00 an announcement was made about some parking issues and so people continued to trickle into the room some 40 minutes after the scheduled start. I told the lady staffer about the wrong-way sign on the main road and showed her a photo I’d taken from the car. She closed her eyes and groaned quietly.

The concert began and it was quickly clear that the venue acoustics were completely inadequate for an unamplified group of baroque instruments and a countertenor. The great Monteverdi Toccata which opens their 2009 Teatro d’amore album probably has more weight on iPod headphones than in this room. And then the coughing from the front rows began – which took down the effective acoustic several levels. That settled down a bit after twenty minutes, but as lovely and well executed as the program was, a number of the instruments were nearly inaudible – and I’m sure the people in the rows behind us had an even harder time of it.

The entire concert lasted 60-70 minutes, I just wished I could have heard and seen more of it. When the applause started I motioned to Gustav to make a quick exit, as I didn’t want to be behind a thousand people trying to get their vehicles out of the field and down the narrow hillside road into Lourdes.

We got to the car pretty quickly but discovered as I tried to drive out that not only way the booking for the event rather experimental, but the parking was even more so. The cars had been packed so close together by the auto-Tetris playing parking attendants that we were stuck until the outer vehicles had gone. So we had to wait for enough audience members to leave and move the necessary vehicles to make any further progress. It took us 30-40 minutes to extract ourselves fully from the Cité; with other vehicles arriving to pick up some of the audience members, the long chain of vehicles ahead of us could not exit. Not a good conclusion to a big let-down of an evening, especially with a two hour drive on winding country roads ahead.

If Beethoven and Elvis came back to earth to do a joint concert at Auditorium Padre Pio, I would not go. I can’t wait to see L ‘Arpeggiata again in a more appropriate, less “experimental” venue.

1 comment:

  1. Lesley7:42 pm

    I wonder if the players are ever aware of the awful conditions for their audience? What a bummer to spoil what should have been a great evening.