Vanessa Mae in Riga

On Monday I was at a Vanessa Mae concert in arena "Riga" in Riga, Latvia.

The concert was almost an hour late due to flight delay. It would have been fine if the organisers would let us into the hall or at least informed the several thousand people about the delay and its reason and not just have us stand in the rather restricted lounge. around half an hour after the planned start time, we were let to our seats and some ten minutes later an announcement was broadcasted explaining the reason for the delay.

Vanessa came out with her own band and a local Latvian string orchestra. I wonder if she played with local orchestras in other locations as well. The orchestra preformed perfectly as far as I could tell, which is not much because they were mixed way down and were barely audible most of the time.

I am a big fan of Vanessa Mae - I like classical music, I love her interpretation of that music and I appreciate how she made classical music more acceptable for a modern teen to like. That said, the concert was a mix of joy and disappointment for me.

The joy came from hearing the music that I know and like and seeing how it is played in real life. It was a great joy and most of the time I was bobbing in my chair as a very happy boy.

However, there were moments when I cringed and unfortunately there was more than a handful of those during the two hour concert. The problems could be put into three categories:

1. Vanessa missing a note or even a handful of them badly. I will be an optimist and blame that on the tuning - just the day before she was playing in Seatle in 80% humidity and then came to Riga and 20% humidity. She had to retune her wooden violin after each song because of that. She apologised for that mid-show.

2. Spotlight and camera missing the action. At times Vanessa steps back and one of her band members goes on a solo, but most of the time the person controlling the spotlight and the person controlling the camera were not 'in' the action and just stayed on Vanessa. The worst cases were when a couple seconds into the solo the camera would start to pan over to the band member playing the solo part, spend a couple more seconds framing and focusing and then after another second the spotlight did the same and by that time the solo part was over. Two cameras and two spotlight should be used for such cases with people controlling them having a clear idea of what happens next. One camera should always be on a wider angle shot and one for closeups, so that when a switch is coming, you could switch to wide angle a couple of seconds before the switch, give the closeup camera time to change target, re-frame and re-focus and then switch to it. And for the spotlights, one would always track the main person and the other seeking out the next person of interest.

3. Mixing problems. Vanessa was always way too loud and drowned out the other instruments even when that was not desirable. Background orchestra was too low. In general the mixing was very pop-ish - no dynamic range. The worst cases of this were Bolero and Storm. Storm is my favourite melody and I especially love the slow and quiet beginning of the song, but that was skipped entirely in the concert cutting straight to the loud part. Some other songs were also brutalised that way.

I know that true artists generate most of their income through concerts and for that reason I recommend every Vannessa Mae fan to buy the tickets to her concerts, but if you are an audiophile .. don't go there - stay at home with you trustworthy stereo system and FLAC recording of great sound. The concert is there to support the artist and for the atmosphere not for the best sound, unfortunately.