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Orsolino Quintet in Bangalore
I prefer the intimacy of a chamber recital to the grandeur of a symphony orchestra. The String Quartet is my favorite ensemble. I’ve heard very little music for wind ensembles, and in all honesty, did not even know until very recently that flute is one of the members of a Wind Quintet. When I learned of a performance by Orsolino Quintet, organized by Max Mueller Bhavan in Bangalore, I made sure that I attended it – what better way than a live recital to initiate oneself to a new ensemble.

The Wind Quintet unlike its string counterpart, gained prominence only in the late classical period. It evolved from a bigger ensemble – the Wind Octet – of two oboes, two clarinets, two horns and two Bassoons. The duplicate instruments of the Octet were done away with and a flute added to the resultant “quartet”, giving us the Wind Quintet.

I reached the performance venue (Chowdaiyah Hall) with two friends and found out that no tickets/passes were being sold at the venue. While the posters announcing this performance at a lot of places spoke of everyone being welcome in a prominent font, the finer print had clearly stated that we needed to acquire passes from the Max Mueller bhavan to be allowed in – by no means a detail as trifle as the size of the typeface used in printing it. A friend somehow (by cajoling rather than by coercion) managed one pass, on producing which at the entrance, the three of us were allowed in (the pass was meant to admit only two). The passes were just a token – promotion of classical music was clearly the real intent of the evening. We settled into our seats with much expectation – the stray notes from the greenroom rehearsal of quintet serving to heighten it.

There are three kinds of composers – ones that you’ve heard, ones that you haven’t and ones that you haven’t heard of. The evening’s program had a bigger share of the third kind (as far as I was concerned). The program began with the recital of the overture to Mozart’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’, rearranged for the string quintet by Ulf-Guido Schäfer. This was followed by Antonin Reicha’s (whose students in the Paris Conservatoire included the likes of Liszt and Beriloz) Quintet in D (Op. 91/3). Then came a modern classical (20th century) work – Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet (1953) – composed by Geörgy Ligeti. The works were redolent of background score of Tom and Jerry. I don’t want to sound disrespectful to modern composers, but their music somehow escapes me. It takes a virtuoso to perform a modern classical work and yet the output – (usually highlighted by good deal of dissonance) is hardly gratifying. Beethoven’s music at one time was spoken of in a similar vein, so I am inclined to assume that their music (if it can be called that) is much ahead of their times. (Barely weeks ago I had heard another work – a choral work – by Ligeti and even that had served to incense my eardrums).

A quick fifteen minute break separated the first half of the performance from second, the latter began with performance of August Klughardt’s Quintet in C (Op. 79). Then came what was least expected, the members of the Wind Quintet got up, moved their chairs and music stands into a neat file at the very edge of the stage, and began performance of Luciano Berio’s Opus Number Zoo (sic!). The intention, I believe, was to greatly lighten the stiff air which pervades any western classical performance by having some good humored fun. The four pieces which had verses that were recited by one or more members of the ensemble, as others played in the background had all of us in rapture! (Besides ratifying my earlier observation on connection between modern western classical and cartoon films) Here are two verses that caused considerable mirth:

Barn Dance

The fox took a chicken out on the floor.
Poor silly chicken didn’t know the score.
And as they whirled in their joyous dance
oh she admired how the fox could prance.
She never noticed when the light went out…

She skipped to the beat with head held high,
she bowed to the fox as he circled by.
He winked at her with a high-dee-hoe.
And thy then engaged in a doessee doe.
She never noticed when the lights went out…

He swung her to left, he swung her to right,
he swung her around with all his might.
The air grew heavy, the lights grew dim
but she felt no fear as she smiled at him;
He turned her again and she held him tight
as she smiled and whirled in the fading light,
she felt to fear, she knew no doubt
and never noticed when the light went out.

That’s all, folks.

Tom Cats

In the jungle of the city two tom-cats chanced to meet.
Omar and Bartholomew, tip-toeing around their beat.
Their chests swelled up with envy (oh, an envy most intense),
as each spotted his new rival, beside a back-yard fence.
Bartholomew’s great tail (a tail of wide renown)
made Omar stare insanely, that tail he’d love to own.
Bartholomew stared also, he envied what he saw.
He yearned to own the whiskers that Omar proudly wore.
A howl soon broke the silence of that mid-summer night.
Like David and Goliath, both cast aside all fright,
as cat met cat in battle, in battle, in battle.
Oh. It was a beastly fight.
Oh. Both limped home forlorn.
All tails and whiskers gone.

p.s. The Orsolino Quintet is on an all India tour and their last destination is New Delhi, where they perform on the 15th – highly recommended!
posted: 8.12.04

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