Showing posts with label LPO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LPO. Show all posts

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pop goes the Rachmaninov

How do you fill a large hall for 20th-century repertoire? Play Rachmaninov. Composers who lived through these turbulent and violent times but composed in their own styles, rooted in romanticism or not, rather than the supposedly prevailing avant-garde, should be indivisible from our complete artistic picture of their age. Yet it's taken a startling amount of hindsight to reach the idea that someone who died in the 1940s is not "really 19th-century". (Sergei Rachmaninov: 1873-1943.)

These composers - Strauss, Rachmaninov, Korngold, et al - were as much of their specific era in their own ways as anyone else. Well done to The Rest is Noise for taking such a radical step - which should have been obvious years ago, but, well, you know how it goes in this funny little world...

Tonight at the RFH it's Sergei's turn. The fabulous Simon Trpceski plays the Third Piano Concerto and the LPO top it off with the Second Symphony. Yannick Nezet-Seguin is sadly off sick, but Mikhail Agrest has stepped in to save the day. Oh, and it's full (might be some returns, though, from Yannick fans). Yes, 20th-century music is popular when it's allowed in from the cold.

The fact that Rachmaninov is a man for more recent years is all too obvious...

Brief Encounter, 1945


Eric Carmen, 'All By Myself', 1975


Dana, 'Never Gonna Fall In Love Again', 1976


It's also true that the greatest music has something indescructible about it. Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Chopin are just a few of the other towering figures whose works have been set, reset, ripped off, shredded and otherwise bowdlerised, and still survive and often sound as good as ever. That puts Rachmaninov in excellent company.

Try Chopin. Once a Parisian sophisticate, always a Parisian sophisticate.

Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin, 'Jane B', 1969



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The rest is a lot of noise



"Join us to explore how war, race, sex and politics shaped 

the most important music of the 20th century"!


I've just been to the Southbank Centre to see the unveiling of The Rest is Noise festival: a jamboree to last right the way through 2013, inspired, of course, by Alex Ross's book of the same title. It is a complete embracing of the world of 20th-century music and the way it interacted with the politics, wars, science, arts, literature - indeed the total history of its time. And it's a magnificent effort pulling together the Southbank, BBC4, Radio 3, the Open University, various digital platforms and a lot of very incredible music and musicians.

You have to come to London for this. Perhaps such a festival could happen in New York, but in few other cities of the world; what a celebration of creativity, collaboration, artistic quality, storytelling and, hopefully, transformation we can expect. It strikes me - having spent much time this year in Switzerland and Austria - that perhaps one needs an element of financial unease to become truly creative (not too much, mind - just enough...). If the universe has provided excess security, there's no need to do anything half so exciting and you can end up as half asleep as the inhabitants of the hotel in which my jacket caught fire the other day.

If The Rest is Noise can turn around the fortunes of 20th-century music and let people listen to it with fresh ears, with new understanding thanks to the provision of vital context, and cleansed of prejudice, preconception and pernicious agendas, it will have made a major contribution to the transformation of modern-day culture and how it is perceived. As Jude Kelly explained, we need to put classical music at the heart of contemporary thinking about how we reflect our world and our place in it.

At the launch, Vladimir Jurowski spoke of breaking down the "cults" of the past and putting living, breathing music of our time onto the stage. That will be a tall order in Verdi and Wagner year (they can probably get away with it where Britten is concerned), but it's an admirable aim. You have to think big in this business, or you never get off the ground. You'd remain stultified by ancient anniversaries instead. Oh, wait...

Perhaps the most exciting thing of all, though, is that the London Philharmonic Orchestra is devoting its entire RFH concert schedule throughout 2013 to this festival. A little over a year ago, they saw fit to declare, er, that "AT THE LPO, MUSIC AND POLITICS DON'T MIX". I look forward to watching them spend a whole year proving themselves wrong.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Messing about in boats...

I don't think it was really meant to be funny. But I found myself glued to the webcast of yesterday's Diamond Jubilee River Pageant in the hope that someone, sometime, might bring on Captain Mainwearing and reveal the whole thing to be an episode of Dad's Army.

Like when the royal barge was turning round, just that wee bit weirdly, and nobody on the announcing panel seemed very sure whether or not it was meant to be doing what it was doing - "It's going sideways! Isn't that amazing!" Or when Tower Bridge nearly didn't do its thang in time (we do love Last Minute here). And a phalanx of increasingly desperate and chilled (in the wrong way) BBC reporters uttered the phrase "The rain can't dampen the spirits" so often that, had this indeed been a comedy script, it would have signalled a character's self-delusion that enough repetitions make something true. Now, I'm sure plenty of people indeed didn't mind - we're a tough nation, aren't we. But at the end, according to Channel 4 News, docking priority was given to the open boats with suspected hypothermia sufferers on board.

Meanwhile the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are getting on in years, but stood on their freezing barge throughout - never have the words "God Save the Queen" seemed so appropriate. Someone needed to save her, fast. Or at least take her a nice cup of tea.


June is the UK's monsoon season. We all know this. We just don't want to admit it. But if you plan a big outdoor event, which requires young singers to stand on the roof of a boat belting into microphones, it is surely your responsibility at least to let them borrow a brolly? The poor choir from the RCM gave Land of Hope and Glory everything they'd got, but they were absolutely sodding drenched. The people in the 1m-strong crowd lining the riverbanks had a choice: to be there or not to be there (incidentally, I know people who wanted to be there and tried to go, only to be told by the police that they might as well go home!). But the performers didn't.

The LPO-on-Thames was dry indoors, but I'm not sure about the musicians on other boats because we saw zippity-plunk of them on the TV. You know that joke about the holidaymakers at dinner? "This food is terrible," says one. The reply: "Yes - and such small portions." So, the BBC audience heard a bit of the Dambusters March while a chap from Horrible Histories rabbited through some  shtick. And we caught a glimpse of LPO-o-T, while the royals jigged about to the Henry Wood Sea Shanty piece. Just long enough for me to recognise the leader of the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra at its helm, and for BBC News to say it was the LSO, and for @Queen_UK to credit the RPO, and for Norman Lebrecht to reveal on Twitter that it's looking for a new PR...

For about four seconds, earlier, a faint echo of Water Music emerged as the Academy of Ancient Music sailed by. The Royal Marines' brass band was slightly more audible - that's the nature of trumpets. Yet, dear readers, I'd tuned in wanting to hear the specially written new compositions by a raft (so to speak) of extremely fine British women composers - among them Debbie Wiseman, Rachel Portman and Jocelyn Pook - yet the BBC's TV coverage conveyed not a single note of them. Why not? Is contemporary music deemed too difficult for us poor uneducated general public to appreciate, or what? A desultory tweet from one of their performers went "Just spent 2 hours playing them and getting soaked" - followed by a plea of: "Could you really not hear any music?"

No, my friend. Not a bloomin' squeak. Only a special performance by a choir of sailors of a sea-shanty that said they were heading for South Australia, which seemed like rather a good idea.

But this is Britain. And what a day it was. Extraordinary. Unforgettable. Ever so British. World records were set. Boats were well messed about in. It was wonderful entertainment, just maybe not in quite the intended manner. I'm wondering who will be the first media person to crack, call a spade a spade and admit that it was a washout. Naturally, to misquote Oscar Wilde, I'm happy to say that I have never seen a spade.

[Photo: Press Association]