Monday, December 10, 2012

Grand Théâtre de Tours, December 9th

After the French Revolution, certain State properties were sold off, including a church just off the main square in central Tours, which an enterprising merchant turned into an 800-seat theatre where for thirty years touring companies put on performances of plays by Molière and operas by Mozart. Another 200 seats were added in 1837, but there wasn't enough money to keep up with renovations and repair, and the building was eventually sold to the City of Tours in 1867, who promptly tore it down to build a new theatre. That one opened its doors in 1872 and closed them a decade later after a large fire destroyed most of the building. Reconstruction started in 1884 under the direction of architect Jean Hardion and artist Georges Clairin; the Grand Théâtre has been open ever since its second inauguration in November 1889, other than a year or two during those pesky wars.

In the spirit of the original post-Revolution theatre, everyone has the liberté to walk into the richly-painted entrance hall with its marble staircases and bronze statues, but that égalité only goes as far as the price of your ticket, and if you're a poor student, you have to take the narrow wooden back staircase to join the fraternité in the cheap seats.

My season ticket is for one of the seats on a narrow ledge tacked on at the front of the second balcony, so narrow that we all sit facing sideways slightly because there's only about four inches between the edge of the seats and the half-wall that keeps us from tumbling down on top of the patrons in the orchestra section. There are evenly-spaced darker shiny spots on the red velours of the top of the half-wall where over a century's worth of elbows have rested, or perhaps foreheads if the concert went on a little too long. There's a large box down by the stage waiting for the next King or Queen of France, but right now it appears to contain extra lighting equipment, and I think I saw one of the ushers sitting in there behind the curtain, listening to the music.

I'm not certain whether this is peculiar to l'Orchestre Symphonique Région Centre-Tours or if it's a French thing, but only the non-string players are on stage before the concert, and instead of the concertmaster/mistress coming in to applause to tune the instruments, the whole string section comes in. Tuning happens a bit differently with this orchestra as well, with the oboe player giving the A to the string basses first (they're in back because of the size of the stage, I think, a configuration I've never seen before) and then to the winds and brass. Then the oboist turns to the concertmaster (this time; it was a woman last concert) who tunes alone to that A, and then continues to play that A, giving it first to the first violins, then the cellos, then the violas, and then the second violins. That's the order of the string sections this orchestra appears to use, from left to right as you face the stage. Again, I'm not sure if this is just what the OSRC-T does or if this is a French or European configuration. I'll have to go to more concerts in different places to compare.

Since I'm on the left-hand side of the stage and facing outward, I have an excellent view of the viola section, which was nice during the Bruckner Symphony No. 4, because he really made use of them. Much of the second movement is an extended solo for the violas. The orchestra stopped and tuned after the second movement - I can't remember ever hearing an orchestra tune in the middle of a piece, but this Bruckner is pretty frenetic, so perhaps the strings needed to readjust after the intense bowing. Which continued in the fourth and final movement, a manic-depressive alternation of tone and tempo that was exciting at first but then exhausting. I don't know that I would like the piece all that much as a recording, but the waves of sonic vibration bouncing around sent shivers all over my body, and that was fun. But it is a long work, so it's a good thing it was the second part of the concert. The first part was Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony No. 8, a last-minute substitution upon the illness of the pianist who was to perform Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. I vaguely remember the Schubert as being very nice to listen to, but the barrage of Bruckner afterwards wiped most of it out of my mind.

Rousell, Franck, and a Tomasi trumpet concerto are on the agenda for the second week of January - that is, if the soloist stays well.


  1. Bruckner is kind of the Iron Man of classical concert-going. Somebody should do the whole cycle back-to-back. The Willamette Falls S.O., maybe.

  2. My head would explode if I had to listen to more than one of them at one go.