KVT – The Waltz

KVT – The Waltz

Posted on

KVT 2013Subscription Concert Vol.62 Homage to Vienna

KVT gets fired up by Ravel

KVT Homage to Vienna 1

‘when my life finally burns out like a match, I’ll remembering these moments most of all.’

Last year when I made opinion about Maestro Andrea Pestalozza conducting the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ I used the above quote that I’d glanced at somewhere online. It describes great music, well played and experienced live.

Monday night at the Opera House, the same maestro and the same orchestra made me think of the quote again as they played an interpretation of Ravel’s 12 minute masterpiece. ‘La Valse’… which has sometimes been subtitled as A Dance for Dieing Europe.

‘La Valse’ is not a stranger to the Opera House. In 2009, Tetsuji Honna conducted a suitably tense version with the VNSO and in 2011 a German/Taiwanese husband and wife team played the composition brilliantly on two grand pianos… as was an early intent of the composer.

KVT Homage to Vienna Ravel 2

Last Monday night. It was an inspired decision to program ‘La Valse’ as the final piece of the night.

The two movements of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ came first and were played majestically with the intended drama pushing through. The darkness of the first movement is given shivery pathos by the recurrence of a tune that has become one of the worlds most famous.
When the symphony comes to its unfinished, lingering conclusion, you are left way up in the air and wondering which mood…optimism or pessimism…. the finale would have expressed.

Vietnamese pianist Trang Trinh and the VNSO gave Mozart’s Piano Concerto 27 a delicate touch with a hint of stateliness around the edges.


Mozart composed the concerto about a year before his death and is said that it is evocative of intensely personal and painful experiences facing him then and being, by turns, mysterious, luminous and tragic but all held together by a blend of elegance and poignancy. It was really evident that Trang Trinh felt this too.

Then came ‘La Valse’

Because Ravel revised this ballet score in 1919, it is full of the stress, tension, anger, disillusion, depression…that came from his experiences in ambulance work in the ‘Great War’. Nowadays we’d call it post traumatic stress syndrome. In the proposed ballet (not successfully put on stage until 1950 by Balanchine in New York) the synopsis revolves around the decline and fall of late nineteenth century Imperial grand society and ravel composed a ballroom waltz of that era as a motif.


Initially when Ravel started think about the work in 1906, he’d intended it to be an homage to Strauss whose waltzes he saw as a symbol of old Europe and all its beauty and dignity civility-with Vienna its apex. When he came back to the composition after the war he pessimistically believed that the Europe he’d mythicised had lost its way and collapsed into ugliness, instability and chaos, and was eddying towards oblivion. In La Valse he takes the beauty and elegance of the Straus waltz and over rides it with tension and instability that allows the music of the waltz to begin and swell for a while over a tide of uncertainty before sinister undercurrents wreak havoc.

And the havoc was wreaked brilliantly on Monday night.

It’s a great joy to listen to a live orchestral performance when, at its conclusion, the whole orchestra is smiling broadly at their own audacity at getting it just right.

Thank you Maestro Pestalozza and you wonderfully with it members of the VNSO

A Night to cherish!

Can’t get you Pestalozza and the VNSO so Bernstein will have to make do

PS: my thoughts on La Valse are influenced by the writings of American music writer, Michael Steinberg.

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.


Leave a Reply