Michael Tanner

Mistaken identity | 24 August 2017

Elsewhere Barenboim played unusual repertoire with mixed results – but Martha Argerich didn’t disappoint

This year’s Lucerne Festival is given its identity by having as its theme ‘Identity’. Since the word doesn’t mean anything, that isn’t a lot of help. But does a festival have to have a theme? Surely a glut of fine performances of great, or at least interesting, music is enough? Michael Haefliger, the icy artistic director, clearly doesn’t agree, and offers two accounts of identity, one in the general festival booklet, where the emphasis is on refugees and national identity, the other in the programmes for the individual concerts, where he is more metaphysical, and concludes with the hope that by listening to the chosen music we will ‘rediscover ourselves entirely’. The results could be catastrophic.

In the four concerts I attended on successive evenings, I found much to enjoy and one or two things to be moved by. But like most of the audience I didn’t feel as though I was discovering things about myself, or needed to in that context. As a kind of upbeat to the first concert, I went to an ‘open’ rehearsal, lasting about 45 minutes, in which Riccardo Chailly, now director of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, gave an exceptionally helpful talk about the two pieces he was rehearsing — Stravinsky’s Chant funèbre, an early piece written as a tribute to his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, and the same composer’s Feu d’artifice, which I last saw conducted by Stravinsky in 1965. The Festival Orchestra played each piece straight through, and then Chailly took them through some passages where he wanted improvements. The whole occasion was delightful and enlightening — and free, unlike anything else in Switzerland, which is expensive to an incredible degree.

My first official concert, the same evening, was given by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Bernard Haitink.

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