‘Bi-musicality’ is an ethno-musicological term denoting a parallel facility in music from two different cultures. But when you encounter a group like the Palestine Strings, you realise the word’s appropriateness extends far beyond academe.
Based in the Edward Said Conservatory of Music, these players aged between 12 and 22 are now leading the cultural renaissance in Palestine, and they are trained in two parallel traditions – Western classical music, and its Arab counterpart. Last summer Nigel Kennedy linked up with them after spotting one of their YouTube videos: Prom 34 saw them merge with the Polish members of his Orchestra of Life for a brand-new version of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
Kennedy is himself bi-musical through his perennial melding of classical music and jazz: he and his OoL have shown that it’s possible to play fast and loose – and very satisfyingly – with Baroque classics. But what would they do with the Palestinians on board?
Something very different. Coming on with none of his usual cheeky-chappie patter, Kennedy got stuck into the first movement of "Spring" but swerved off-course with a flurry of bird-tweets followed by a jazz riff from his bassist; the staccato chords of the next movement were decorated by a microtonal Arabic riff from one of the guest players. And a pattern was established: each movement became the framework on which free improvisations would be hung, some comic, some strange, some hauntingly beautiful.
With Kennedy calling the shots whenever he wasn’t sawing away manically, and with his pianist Gwilym Simcock generating a perfumed harmonic haze, each Palestinian player got a turn in the limelight. Thus Orientalised, Vivaldi became the occasion for a seamless exercise in enchantment.
Meanwhile Mitsuko Uchida and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons were showing what spells could be conjured in the staid old world of mono-musicality. In Uchida’s hands the opening of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto sounded as delicately weightless as she herself looked, in her diaphanous golden silks: this was an account at once physically demonstrative, intensely poetic, and perfectly projected. As always when she plays this work, her hushed interjections in the slow movement created a rapt stillness, and her cadenzas had muscular poise.
If this performance was not technically flawless, her encore – a Bach Sarabande – most certainly was, as was the brilliantly nuanced account of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique which followed: these Bavarians really are something.