A delicate balance (2/2)

Cairo Opera House Main Hall, 11 June; Sergey Rachmaninov: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30; L. van Beethoven: Symphony no. 3 in E flat Major “Eroica”, Op. 55. Cairo Symphony Orchestra, soloist: Mohamed Shams, conductor: Marcello Mottadelli

Published on 16 June 2011 in Al Ahram Weekly

PART 1: conductor: Marcello Mottadelli

And onto Beethoven’s Eroica, in the second half of the evening: it was rather inappropraite for Mottadelli to open the concert with a pompous speech in which he cited his own valuable contributions to the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, adding a brief presentation of future international assignments. Not only should such valuable contributions be assessed by another party. Monttadelli’s impressions of work with the orchestra would have been far more interesting. And it is about time to point out that, in their three-year marriage, while Mottadelli added an important item on his CV, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra gained very little. Not only was Mottadelli’s attitude pompous but his attire too was often problematic (turtle-neck one time, tuxedo the next — and never a thought to what the orchestra are wearing!) Now as before his gestures were completely strange to the conductor’s vocabulary, friendly waves to the brass section or a thumbs up to Shams in the first half of the evening. Most important of all, his understanding of the material he conducted was always conditioned by self absorption rather than creative communication with the orchestra. Over dozens of concerts, Mottadelli not once demonstrated musical vision. While he built his own personal repertoire, he seldom contributed to the artistic development of the musicians.

There is no need to elaborate on Beethoven’s Eroica conducted by Mottadelli. One of the greatest compositions of all times and Beethoven’s hallmark, Symphony no. 3 stands at the threshold of musical Romanticism. It is believed that, having listened to Eroica, Haydn commented said of Beethoven, “He’s done something no other composer ever attempted… everything is different as of today.” Eroica is among the staple compositions of all concert halls; and any conductor aiming to capitalise on its wealth must have a clear idea of his own vision and how he would like to transfer it through orchestra to audience. It is pointless to discuss each movement by itself since, under Mottadelli’s baton, the same problems recurred in all of them — and there were too many problems. Mottadelli managed to literally destroy the orchestral structure of the composition, something that was painfully obvious in the second movement (Marcia funebre: Adagio assai). The lack of unity, balance and coordination among different sections of the orchestra was unbelievable; so were the failures of solo entries. Unbalanced dynamics struck the ears especially in the second and the third (Scherzo: Allegro vivace) movement. Coordination problems are not to be blamed on the Cairo Symphony Orchestra which has demonstrated its ability to perform Eroica to a much higher musical standard. There were problems with the solo lines, the horns once again failing to deliver many beautiful lines and the bassoon failing in the third movement, yet it remains proncipally a conducting problem.

In Ahmed El Saedi’s Symphony no. 4, I mentioned an unpleasant tension, but this has nothing to do with the abilities of the orchestra itself. In Eroica, Mottadelli seemed to be either too lost or too preoccupied with his own ego to pay attention to the music itself. I had avoided criticising Mottadelli because it did not make the best sense to do so in the context of the reviews in question, but this feels like the right moment to give an honest assessment of his performance over three years. Since 11 June was his last concert, one could have expected a special energy to pour into Eroica, lifting the composition into the deserved level of perfection and at least leaving a positive impression of the conductor. This did not happen. All I can say is that it is well for the orchestra to finally seek the kind of resident conductor they deserve — and my hope is that this is what it will get.


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