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The Joy of Janine Jansen

The Joy of Janine Jansen

Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto was a happy eventuality arising from a singularly unhappy folly. Anxious to quell rumours of his homosexuality, Pyotr Ilyich married a brainless nymphomaniac who had declared her unbridled admiration for his music and undying love for its composer. Within three weeks, repulsed by her unbridled desire to become as familiar with his body as she was unfamiliar with his music, he fled and attempted suicide. When that didn't work out, he went abroad, to Lake Geneva, where he was joined by a young male violinist, Josif Kotek, with whose body he was only too pleased to familiarise himself. Sanity and sex restored, Tchaikovsky proceeded to write a concerto. For violin, naturally. Josif immersed himself in it, signing off on it as playable as he went, contrary to what some would say of it subsequently.

Reviewing it after its premiere, the famed and feared critic Eduard Hanslick declared it proof that music could "stink," and commiserated with the violin itself, saying the concerto required it to be not so much played as "beaten black and blue."

Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D went on to become one of the most revered and oft-played works in the Romantic repertoire.

On Saturday night, Janine Jansen played it with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Michael Fowler Centre. She did indeed beat her violin black and blue; the sturdy Stradivarius was, fortunately, equal to the punishment, but was surely taken to its limits. It was all done out of love, of course ... actually, Ms Jansen seemed to be making love both to the concerto and to her handsome husband, conductor Daniel Blendulf, on the podium close beside her. As with Freddy Kempf before her, her feat was as much athletic as aesthetic. It was impossible for anyone, even this unreconstructed 100% homo, to take his or her eyes off her—a voluptuous accompaniment to the feast for the soul and ears of which one simultaneously partook.

In reviewing Freddy's Beethoven-fest, I made a plea for the abandonment of the pretentious NABM (No Applause Between Movements) custom. I am delirious to report that the other night, the custom was abandoned. At the end of the first movement—as seemed inevitable in the ferocity of the moment—fierce applause broke out. Not hesitant, not diffident, not self-conscious, not a smattering, but a committed cascade of clapping from every corner and cranny of the concert-hall! Much more instant and fervent than in the above video of a performance in Paris. Ms Jansen graciously, beamingly, acknowledged it. May this occasion mark the end, in New Zealand, of the Reign of the Stuffed Shirt.

I did not linger for the Cacophiev Symphony No. 5 that made up the second half of the programme. It is said to be a tribute to the human spirit; if this be so, the human spirit must be in rather poor shape. If the programmers wanted a theme of Russian-based optimism and triumphalness, why not Tchaikovky's 5th?!

Still, the marvel that was Janine, coming so soon after the miracle that was Freddy, made the NZSO's opening salvos for 2015 very, very hard acts to follow.


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