Ray Petersen –
It was the renowned fairy tale author, Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote, “Where words fail, music speaks,” and that thought came to my mind often during a performance at the Royal Opera House last week.
Now, after many years, you will know that I’m no ‘culture vulture,’ and it was only at the insistence of my wife that I attended the performance of the Oman Symphony Orchestra delivering Mozart’s masterpieces. It was nice enough, quite light, with a pleasant rendition of what I’m reliably informed was Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622 by youthful Omani clarinetist, Ammar bin Ali al Awaisi, and a solo spot by baritone Paulo Szot.
However, as the performance progressed I found my attention wandering somewhat, and I thought about the orchestra itself, the concept of an ‘Omani’ symphony orchestra, and its development within a culture that doesn’t have any genuine pretensions towards classical music. I began to focus on the individual members of the orchestra, and pondered what their stories may be. One day, I thought, I’ll find out.
Anyway, musings being what they are. Wait. First, I must say that whoever is responsible for the costumes of the female musicians, I think it’s an absolute master-stroke. Brightly bedecked in red and green versions of traditional dress, with golden jewellery, they are immediately identified as Omani, and what a statement that makes.
So, back to where I was. I would look at the orchestra’s first violin. Now I’m not cultured, but I do recall from somewhere that he is the musical leader of the orchestra, confirmed by both soloists, and conductor Paul Meyer, taking a moment to greet and shake hands in a gesture of, I guess, gratitude, but surely also, respect.
So I look at this man, and I think. How on earth did you ever get an interest in music, let alone classical music? And what about the instrument? I mean the violin is hardly a traditional Omani instrument, is it? I wonder. Did he maybe have parents in the diplomatic service, who were often overseas, who were exposed to classical music, and who somehow developed in their son a love of the genre? I don’t know, but violinist Yehudi Menuhin once referred to a violin as being “half tiger, half poet,” and I guess that would make the instrument an appealing challenge?
Then, my attention turned to the Omani woman sitting in one of the cello spots. How does a gentle young Omani woman come to be playing a big, uglyish instrument like that? The violin may be un-Omani, but the cello, and a petite woman? I mean, what in the world could attract anyone to an instrument you can’t fit in your pocket, or your bag, or even a modest case? No, for this thing, the cello, you need a huge case, a trolley and someone big and strong to push it.
I’m kidding of course, but it’s not really a genteel, feminine-looking accessory, is it? In fact, the oft quoted words of a cellist are usually, “Yes, I play the cello, and No, it is not an oversized violin.”
But maybe, like a woman who chooses an ugly man as her partner, or a man who chooses a plain woman, we can never really know what is in the hearts and minds of either, can we? I do understand one thing about classical music, and that is that it takes a strong character to be good at any of the instruments, well apart from the drum that is, I mean anyone can bang on a drum can’t they? And before all you percussionists out there start sending me ‘hate mail,’ I’m only joshin’ ya.
The reality is though, that anyone who can take an inanimate object, and entertain us with it, has to be admired as part magician, part artist, and much respected.