Showing posts with label London Philharmonic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London Philharmonic. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New baton announced for the LPO



Born in Colombia, living in Vienna, flexing his muscles and charming the everything off everyone, to judge from this video from Portland, here comes the new boy at the London Philharmonic. Andrés Orozco-Estrada (he pronounces his own name Orozcestrada) has today been announced as the band's new principal guest conductor, taking over when Yannick Nézet-Séguin's tenure concludes at the end of this season. I haven't seen him in action live yet. He only conducted the LPO for the first time a couple of months ago.

Here he is conducting the Tonkunstler Orchestra in the Figaro overture.

We look forward to getting to know him. 



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A hundred years ago already?

(OK, OK, I promise I'm never, ever going to say again that I'm on holiday and won't blog for a week. Apologies for typos in the past few posts - I was working on a shiny-screened laptop in brilliant Egyptian sunshine....... Now back. Bit chilly here, i'n't it?)

My birthday tribute to The Rite of Spring - a piece of music without which my life might have been very different - is out in today's Independent. (Own obligatory book plug here.) Below, please find the director's cut. First, here's a fascinating interview with Monica Mason, Kenneth MacMillan's original Chosen Maiden, about the making of his version, with extracts of dancing from the amazing Ed Watson, the most recent male Chosen One at Covent Garden, among others.







THE RITE OF SPRING
Jessica Duchen

It was probably the most cataclysmic moment in the history of music. On 29 May 1913 the curtain rose at Paris’s Théatre des Champs-Elysées on the new ballet Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky to a score by Igor Stravinsky. Minutes later the place was in uproar. This event set the music of the 20th century in motion as surely as the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand 13 months later heralded a terrifying new age in warfare, politics and society. 

Speaking recently at the first night of the Southbank Centre’s year-long festival of 20th and 21st-century music, The Rest is Noise, the artistic director Jude Kelly termed this era “the age of violence”. And in 1913 The Rite of Spring was indubitably the most violent music the world had yet heard. Harmony is slashed, cubic, multilayered. Often the orchestra effectively plays in two keys at once. Melody, when it is present at all, is fragmentary, suggesting the ambience and contours of folk songs. Rhythm drives the whole thing, but those rhythms – elemental, driven, clashing – are anything but predictable, throwing the listener about like a runaway train. Stravinsky sets up a pattern only in order to shatter it. It has been suggested that the work contains “a touch of sadism”. 

The ballet’s story is indeed cruel. An imaginary ancient tribe sacrifices a young virgin to propitiate the god of spring. We are hapless witnesses as the Chosen Maiden is selected, glorified, then forced to dance herself to death. It is a gut-wrenching idea that could seem almost to tap into a primitive bloodlust. Whether or not that was deliberate on Stravinsky’s part, or Nijinsky’s, is something we’ll probably never know. 

Stravinsky claimed that he had the idea for the ballet in a “fleeting vision”. But someone else needs to receive more credit for dreaming it up: the ballet’s designer, the Russian artist and philosopher Nicholas Roerich, who was far more deeply engaged with matters of folklore – besides Theosophy and occult mysticism – than the composer himself. Stravinsky’s earlier ballets drew on fairy stories and Russian folk music, but the wellsprings of horror that underlie The Rite are never fully present. Stravinsky certainly developed the scenario in collaboration with Roerich, and later the artist was furious to see his crucial role in its creation downgraded while the composer hogged the glory. 

Not that there was much of that to be had from the hissing and cat-calling on the first night. The protest broke out shortly after curtain-up. Stravinsky fled the auditorium and observed the rest of the performance from backstage: “I have never again been that angry,” he recalled. Serge Diaghilev – the impresario behind the Ballets russes de Monte Carlo, responsible for commissioning all concerned – was nevertheless rather satisfied with the outcome. Even then, there was no such thing as bad publicity.

The “riot at The Rite” has been the subject of endless scrutiny. Doubt has been cast on whether it really amounted to a riot at all; noise, yes, but fist-fights, probably not, though around 40 people are said to have been thrown out of the theatre. In all likelihood the disapprobation was directed at Nijinsky’s eccentric and ungainly choreography, rather than Stravinsky’s efforts; after all, with so much noise, the music was scarcely audible. Commentators have pointed to all manner of issues at stake that night, from a faction in attendance that was loyal to Diaghilev’s better-established choreographer, Mikhail Fokine, to the sensitivities of a French audience beleaguered by the tense atmosphere that prefigured World War I. But some composers who heard it were not happy either; Puccini attended on the second night and dubbed it the work of “a madman”.

Stravinsky emerged from the fracas dispirited; he feared that the hostile reception would shatter the momentum he had achieved following enthusiastic responses to his first two ballets, The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911). But just under a year later, The Rite was rescued when the conductor Pierre Monteux championed it at the Casino de Paris, purely as a concert piece. Allowed to stand or fall on its musical merits, The Rite rose triumphant. 

Today The Rite of Spring has achieved a popularity that Stravinsky could only have dreamed of on that notorious first night. It is a tribute to him that even after a century in which every traditional parameter of music – tonality, rhythm, melody, sonority – has been subverted or destroyed, this work has lost none of its power. In a year dominated to excess by composers’ anniversaries – Wagner, Verdi and Britten – The Rite, only about half an hour long, is enjoying a similar celebration in its own right. 

If anything, its power has increased with familiarity (no doubt helped along when Disney animated it with volcanoes and dinosaurs in Fantasia). It is a concert staple, a modern classic. Last year the London Symphony Orchestra and the conductor Valery Gergiev performed it in Trafalgar Square; a 10,000-strong audience turned out to cheer it on. In the theatre, numerous choreographers have turned their hand to its reinterpretation, from Kenneth MacMillan’s geometric marvels to the heartbreaking terror of Pina Bausch’s version for her Tanztheater Wuppertal. 

We can expect plenty more of it this year. Sadler’s Wells is to stage a celebration entitled A String of Rites, including Michael Keegan Dolan’s choreography of The Rite for Fabulous Beast, a large-scale community project and a new, full-evening ballet by Akram Khan, entitled iTMOi (in the mind of Igor), with new music by Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost. And first, the work features in a concert in The Rest is Noise, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. It’s clear that as it reaches its hundredth birthday Stravinsky’s most famous score has become as perennial as spring itself.

The Rite of Spring features in The Rest is Noise at the Royal Festival Hall on 16 February with the London Philharmonic conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Box office: 0844 875 0073

MUSIC THAT SHOCKED
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1865)
Wagner’s opera changed the face of music when later composers fell under the spell of its harmonic language; but its eroticism scandalised many listeners. Clara Schumann wrote: “It was the most repulsive thing...To be forced to see and listen to such sexual frenzy the whole evening, in which every feeling of decency is violated …I endured it to the end since I wanted to hear the whole lot!”

Georges Bizet: Carmen (1875)
Bizet’s opera was a flop when it first opened at Paris’s Opéra-Comique. It broke the conventions of the venue’s repertoire by ending in murder and tragedy; and the sexually liberated Carmen was regarded as a scandalous, immoral heroine. The opera’s many admirers included Nietzche and also Tchaikovsky, who was greatly influenced by it, but Bizet died three months after the world premiere and never saw its success.

Richard Strauss: Salome (1905)
Strauss amplified Oscar Wilde’s play about the lust-maddened princess and her demand for the head of John the Baptist with music that mixed sensual beauty with claustrophobic and violent excess. Salome’s final scena over the severed head culminates in a chord that encapsulates her depravity so thoroughly that tracts have been written about this moment alone. The opera was banned in London for its first two years. Strauss set out to shock – and succeeded.

Arnold Schoenberg: String Quartet No.2 (1908)
“I feel wind from other planets,” runs the Stefan George poem that Schoenberg set for soprano and string quartet in this ground-breaking work. So did its audience. The planet in question was the final movement’s experiment in “atonality”: a piece written without any tonal centre, giving an impression of floating, unrooted dissonance that exists for its own sake rather than for its relativity. More than a century later, the effect still sounds radical.

John Adams: The Death of Klinghoffer (1991)
Based on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists, Adams’s opera fell foul of ferocious international sensitivities. Planned productions were cancelled and some responses expressed horror that the work should dare to portray the emotions of characters on both sides. After 9/11, an article in the New York Times accused it of “romanticizing terrorism”. Its UK stage premiere finally took place at English National Opera last year, to considerable acclaim.




Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And the winner is...

Congratulations to STEPHEN LLEWELLYN, winner of the JDCMB 'Chacun a son gout' competition. Yes, bizarrely enough, that is indeed the same Stephen Llewellyn who was the proud champion of Miss Mussel's first #operaplot competition. Stephen, you will be the lucky recipient of the new CD by Joseph Calleja, 'The Maltese Tenor', which will be sent to you straight from the offices of Universal Classics.

The correct answers: 'Chacun a son gout' is featured prominently in Johann Strauss II's opera Die Fledermaus. And it is sung by Prince Orlofsky. I am impressed that everybody who entered the competition - and there were lots of you - got it right.

The prize draw took place last night in the concertmaster's dressing room at the Royal Albert Hall, just after the London Philharmonic had completed its 'Vladothon' all-Hungarian Prom, which involved Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, Bartok's Piano Concerto No.1 with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist, and to end, Liszt's Faust Symphony.

We asked the orchestra's one actual Hungarian violinist, Katalin Varnagy, to select the winner's name from the many entries that mingled in the violin case... You can see the very glam Kati talking about her Hungarian musical heritage in the Prom interval when the concert's televised on Thursday evening.



Then, since the occasion was also Tomcat's birthday and, besides, marked the 25th anniversary of him joining the LPO (odd, as he's only 21...) everyone came along for a drink, including the adorable and stupendous Mr Bavouzet...




 













...and also Vladimir Jurowski and concertmaster Pieter Schoemann (pictured below - l to r, Vladimir, Tomcat, Kati and Pieter). The flag is Hungarian - there's a green stripe at the bottom.


I'd just like to reassure any Hungarian Dances fans that the characters of Karina (semi-Hungarian) and Rohan (South African) were not actually based on Kati and Pieter. It's all pure coincidence, honest to goodness, guv. These things happen with books sometimes. Life imitates art. It does.

Quite a late night. Please excuse the JDCMB team while it adjourns to the kitchen for extra coffee....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Maaaghler

GM: "I really must get some bathing shorts..."


Thought it might be fun to go with some friends to listen to the LPO playing Mahler 2 last night at the RFH, with Simone Young conducting. It was fun. We egged on Tom and his colleagues as they rode the surf waves through the Totenfeier, tapped our feet as the second and third movements jaunted along like Offenbach and the nice loud, slow passages towards the end made us think of relaxing in Doyles Fish Restaurant on the beach at Watson's Bay watching the sunset over Sydney Harbour, enjoying fresh barramundi with a glass of...

Hang on. This is Mahler 2, the 'Resurrection' symphony: a crisis of faith and lack of it. "This is an angry protest against death's dominion," says the programme note of the first movement. Mahler described the scherzo: "the world and life become a witch's brew [resulting in] disgust of existence in every form". That familiar tune that keeps returning in the last movement's perambulations is the bloody Dies Irae. This symphony is a matter of life and death.

"What is life and what is death?" wrote Mahler, explaining the first movement. "Have we any continuing existence? Is it all an empty dream, or has this life of ours, and our death, a meaning?" He said: "My need to express myself musically begins at the point where the dark feelings hold sway, at the door which leads into the 'other world' - the world in which things are no longer separated by space and time."

I found myself longing for Solti - the real, Hungarian, pile-driving, Screaming Skull Sir Georg - who would have electrified the entire South Bank. He would have had us on the edge of our seats, trembling on the brink of the chasm between heaven and hell. He would have terrified us with demoniac plainchant, made those clarinets snarl with cruelty and the violins and percussion hiss like asps, and at the last he'd have lifted us up to the blinding brilliance of that eternal, primordial light. And there would have been glory, tears, catharsis.

There were some justified complaints recently in the blogosphere (and elsewhere) about Gergiev's No.3 being under-rehearsed the other day. But Gergiev does have fire, imagination and a seriously galvanising presence. Last night's one-pot dinner was equally under-cooked, despite having had considerably more real-time rehearsal; soprano Melanie Diener, who can be wonderful, was having an off-night; and actually an evening at Doyle's would have been far preferable to a performance of such meaningful music played with utter meaninglessness. Young left us in no doubt that it was all an empty dream. Or just empty.

Word on the ground has it, meanwhile, that La Nina has pulled out of singing the Four Last Songs in the LPO/Young all-Strauss programme on Friday, though I don't know why. And if Also Sprach Zarathustra is going to get the Watson's Bay treatment too, then I'm staying home with Solti.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

LPO cup runneth over

I'd hoped to give a full report on the glittering party that followed the LPO's anniversary concert the other night: the fantastic big-band playing of its Renga Ensemble with Scott Stroman, the speech by arts minister Margaret Hodge, the dusky and charismatic figure of Vladimir Jurowski encircled by adoring fans, the champagne [sorry, Pliable! I've no intention of being at loggerheads with anyone; it takes all sorts, etc, and there's enough room on earth for Adorno, Cage, Rachmaninov and Moet & Chandon]...But we only caught about 10 minutes of it because we were backstage trying to force Tom's locker open. The key was bust and his wallet and sandwiches were on the wrong side of the door.

We also survived our first ride in a brand new RFH lift which took us to the top floor around 7pm and then didn't want to let us out. Again, all was well when it changed its electronic mind, but there was a worrying minute in which we thought there'd be an empty seat in the first violins.

Vladimir's account of the Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances, however, was an event that would surely have made Sir Thomas Beecham proud of the orchestra he founded 75 years ago. Vladimir is a spiritual type, interested in zen, meditation etc, and perhaps this comes across in his conducting in the moments of stillness, the intense focus, the darkness gathering invisible momentum in the background, ready to erupt. The final 'dance' seemed an apocalyptic evocation of a collapsing world.

I'm not going to write about the Mozart and Beethoven because I can never get past the mental image of a Cornflakes packet being thumped when I hear those 'authentic' 'period' drums. But here's a full review from The Telegraph's Matthew Rye.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Happy Birthday, London Philharmonic!

Seventy-five years ago today, the London Philharmonic Orchestra gave its first concert. On the podium was its founder, Sir Thomas Beecham. Tonight at the Royal Festival Hall the LPO is performing a celebration concert for its big birthday, with its new principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski (left), and it's a programme to adore:

Richard Bissell: Fanfare for a 75th anniversary
Mozart: 'Prague' Symphony
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no.4 with Maurizio Pollini
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances

Richard Bissell, by the way, is the band's very fine First Horn. There's no need to introduce Pollini, but I'd like to say that he's one of the pianists I have most admired and respected all my life. An interview I did with him a few years ago left me with the impression that he's a mensch: a person of absolute integrity who lives and works according to strong ideals. No pretence, no fuss, no nonsense: simply the real thing.

Should be an evening to remember.

Here's a more recent interview with Pollini by Richard Morrison (The Times, 28th September). And to inspire, here's the maestro playing the second movement of the concerto, with Abbado conducting.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Been here...






Baden-Baden, where I plucked up the courage to join Tom & the orchestra for a Tristan-dash (check in Heathrow 7.30am, plane delayed 1.5 hours - though not, this time, due to a cat in the hold, just the usual London airspace nonsense; arrive Frankfurt 12.45pm, leave Frankfurt by coach 1.20pm, hold-up on the autobahn, arrive B-B 3.30pm, scheduled start of opera 4pm, actual start of opera necessarily 4.15pm, finish playing 10.15pm, much beer 10.30pm).

Mad, perhaps, but wonderful as well: it was worth every minute of the extra stress. Glorious performances of Lehnhoff's breathtaking blue-light-of-nirvana production from Glyndebourne; Nina Stemme and Katerina Karneus resplendent as Isolde and Brangaene, Robert Gambrill as Tristan, Bo Skovhus as Kurwenal. The excuse for exporting Glyndebourne wholesale (I think this was the first time they've done so) was the Herbstfestival in B-B's marvellous Festspielhaus - once the station at which Brahms, Turgenev et al would have arrived in the town. The all-star line-up meant that on the first morning we met the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at breakfast in the hotel, and on the second the Vienna Philharmonic, which caused much interest in the LPO because they turned up to the dining room mostly in jackets.

We stayed on between nos.3 and 4 (Thursday to Sunday) and went sightseeing. There's something magic about Baden-Baden, which is utterly unspoiled, surrounded by hills that are lathered in rich, varied woodland; the air is pure, the Friedrichsbad allures with promises of steam rooms and massages, and you can walk half an hour to Lichtental to see Brahms's flat, along the Lichtentalerallee which is dotted with 200-year-old weeping elm trees that would have been sizeable 50-year-olds when Brahms, Clara Schumann, Turgenev and Viardot walked here in the 1860s. Just a pity about the food...too many sausages...

Above, top to bottom: the Turgenev bust in the park; Brahms himself (frei aber froh? Really, Johannes? Look at those eyes...); Brahms's house; and the house that Turgenev built (which bears a cruel plaque saying 'Villa Turgenev, kein zutritt') next to Pauline Viardot's, which has been knocked down and replaced with apartments.

Why no statue of Pauline?

But the day after coming back, I went to Paris to investigate what Cecilia Bartoli is doing with Pauline's legendary big sister, Maria Malibran.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

They're back!

UPDATE: VIEW THIS CONCERT ON MEDICI ARTS TV RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! ONLINE UNTIL 30 OCTOBER 2007

The smiles shone right across London last night as the London Philharmonic returned proudly to the spanking, newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall with a spanking [not literally], new principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, for the opening night of the new season, which celebrates the band's 75th birthday. And it's full steam ahead.

After 21 years on board the LPO, Tom declares that this is the best time he can remember. Managers, musicians and family members in the audience talk about a sense of renaissance. Glamour and excitement - at the Southbank Centre? Yes, at last it's all there. I'm still adjusting to the remarkable fact that near the back of the rear stalls, I could hear every detail of the music as clearly as if through iPod headphones. More good news: last night's concert was filmed for release on DVD and it will appear in due course on the recently founded Medici label. [update: watch it online free now, until 30 October.]

In yesterday's Indy, Ed Seckerson had this interesting interview with Vlad. Extract:

"For the LPO, the Jurowski era begins with a programme that starts as he means to go on: Wagner's Parsifal Prelude; Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces; and the original version of Mahler's astonishing Das klagende Lied. That's not a programme, that's a manifesto. Indeed, such is the inventiveness and originality of Jurowski's programming in his first season that, for the first time in perhaps a decade, we can predict the unpredictable on the South Bank."


Yes indeed. It was clear from this selection that easy listening ain't the order of the day (and admittedly the hall wasn't as packed as it might have been without that killer word "Berg"), but the electricity and commitment flowing from the platform suggest that an ideal is gathering pace here. With musicianship like Vladimir's at stake, and the inspiration he's bringing to the orchestra, they should soon have the audience eating out of their hands. People will come to hear them no matter what they do, because there'll be trust; everything will be worth experiencing. This was only the beginning.

And as the work of an 18-year-old, the Mahler wasn't bad...

Monday will be the opening night at the LSO over at the Barbican, with Gergiev conducting Mahler 3, and meanwhile I'm on tenterhooks as to whether I may squeeze into a Wagner dress rehearsal at Covent Garden next week. On balance, France with its sunshine, sea and Provencal markets looks more attractive than grey old Blighty, but musical life like this only exists in London. So there is nowhere else to be.

UPDATE: Medici-Arts TV also has webstreamed concerts from this year's Verbier Festival, available to view online until 30 September. I intended to flag this up earlier, but when I tried to log on, the streaming quality was turning Thomas Quasthoff singing Schubert into something of which Stockhausen could scarcely have dreamed...in retrospect, this was probably my computer's fault rather than theirs. Give it a whirl while you can. And the LPO thing seems to be working perfectly.

Friday, January 26, 2007

LPO TO GIVE UK PREMIERE OF KORNGOLD'S 'DAS WUNDER DER HELIANE'

It's true! Korngold's biggest, greatest opera is finally to receive its UK premiere, nearly 80 years after it was written. The London Philharmonic will play, Vladimir Jurowski will conduct, and an all-star cast is headed by Patricia Racette, Michael Hendrick and Andreas Schmidt; supporting roles will be taken by the likes of Willard White, Robert Tear, Ursula Hesse von den Steinen and Andrew Kennedy. Date for the diary: 21 November 2007. Pre-concert talk by a Korngold devotee closer than you think (*blush*). Full details here.

Yesterday the upbeat team of what's now written as the Southbank Centre launched the classical music programme for the reopening season of the spanking newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall. 11 June is the big day; the first 48 hours are all free; and all four resident orchestras - the LPO, the Philharmonia, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the London Sinfonietta - will play together for the very first time (Ravel's Bolero included). There's a tremendous bonanza of world-class music-making to look forward to. I note with tears in my eyes that the Philharmonia lists piano god Radu Lupu among its soloists. He hasn't played at the South Bank since...well, I can't remember. Pollini will be playing two Beethoven concertos with the LPO. The Piano Series includes recitals by Uchida, Brendel, Andsnes and Krystian Zimerman. Violinists include Mutter, Fischer, Kavakos. There's a run of Carmen Jones in the summer, and later there'll be festivals of Nono and of Messiaen for his centenary.

And they are going to do a Korngold anniversary series. A couple of years ago, I realised that 2007 would be the 50th anniversary of EWK's death and decided that someone had to do something, otherwise nothing would happen. Sketched out my Fantasy Football Korngold Festival, took it to the then head of classical music at the South Bank and left it in her capable hands. Cripes - they went for it. I'm still pinching myself in wonder. Of course, the series has evolved from the basic plan, with everyone deciding which pieces to do; and Vladimir himself plumped for Heliane, not Die tote Stadt.

The LPO is doing three Korngold concerts: a film music programme on 2 November conducted by John Wilson, putting his music alongside Steiner, Newman, Rozsa, Williams et al; the Violin Concerto with the glorious Nikolaj Znaider on 14 November, in a programme with Zemlinsky and Shostakovich conducted by Jurowski; and Heliane to culminate. The Korngold series will also feature a day of events on 27 October, with the showing of Barrie Gavin's splendid documentary, a round-table discussion with a panel of exerts (I'll be asking the questions), a chamber concert by the Nash Ensemble and a song recital by Anne Sofie von Otter with that great Korngold champion Bengt Forsberg at the piano.

I'll introduce a Korngold Watch series on this blog as soon as I can, as there are events taking place all over the world. But to the best of my knowledge, ours here in London is one of the biggest. BOX OFFICE IS NOW OPEN: 020 7840 4242 or online via the concert links above.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Jurowski to be principal conductor of LPO

The London Philharmonic Orchestra announced today that 34-year-old Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski is to take over as its principal conductor as from the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall in 2007. Much jubilation ensued.

Seriously good news, I reckon, as Jurowski is the most exciting young conductor I've come across. There are some excellent chaps out there, but his performances have been head & shoulders above the rest. Vladi is currently the LPO's principal guest conductor and his presence on the podium transforms the atmosphere into something collaborative, young, upbeat and not only a little thrilling. More details shortly.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The nice surprise I mentioned

After - how many?! oh no!! - decades of living in London and attending its various flawed concert halls, I had a huge surprise the other day. Tom's orchestra, the London Philharmonic, is (like its sister Philharmonia) currently homeless while the Royal Festival Hall undergoes its long-awaited refurbishment. So they're playing next door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall instead. Normally I loathe the QEH. It's a miserable concrete monstrosity and its gloomy interior induces little other than sleepy ennuie.....well, until now. What happened? They've opened up the platform so that it's far deeper than usual; they've put up some wooden acoustic stuff (looks a little like stacked up coffins) to the back and sides and - bingo! The band and Vassily Sinaisky started up some lovely Glinka and there was the sound we'd always wanted. Resonant. Warm. Clear. Close. Wallow-in-able. Glorious. Right there in our very own QEH. I was speechless.

Great concert too - another first was hearing Tchaikovsky's Third Symphony live in a concert hall. A work I've always loved from recordings but one that never normally gets played, except for the New York City Ballet performing Balanchine's 'Jewels'. Tchaikovsky in a good mood is such a rarity that it's surprising nobody makes the most of it when it happens, as it undoubtedly does here. The nickname 'Polish' makes me laugh, though, because - except for the Polonaise in the last movement - this music is so terrifically, unmistakeably Russian...

The evening was only marred a little by the Dvorak Cello Concerto, played passably - I use this word with reason, as you'll see in a mo - by the LPO's quasi-resident soloist, Pieter Wispelwey. He's a handsome Dutch fellow (peculiarly resembling a leading British politician) who is very good at Bach in period style. No reason, I guess, why he should have a grander concept of the Dvorak, given that his natural bent is clearly not for romanticism. But hear that famous recording of Slava playing his guts out, and one wonders why anything less would ever do. Playing aside, Wispelwey's facial expressions - ranging from apparent surprise to intense frustration to incipient apoplexy - conjured up for me startlingly marvellous images of Tony Blair in need of prunes.

UPDATE: SUNDAY MORNING - Here's Anna Picard's review of the concert from The Independent - she has less time than me for the QEH acoustics, and more for Wispelwey's playing, but her impression of his face is even more extreme than mine...!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Underdog schmunderdog

Big thanks to Tim for a link to the Atlanta remarks/quotes about yrs truly's blog. I guess I was a technotwit after all...

I do have to take exception, though, to the journalist's description of Tom's orchestra, the London Philharmonic, as the 'underdog' among the top 5 London orchestras. Everyone gets the names confused now and then, but the LPO is really in pretty good shape (one sole section currently lets it down with depressing regularity, but I'm not really allowed to write about that...suffice it to say that it ain't the violins!). No, the real underdog is actually the Royal Philharmonic - which is absolutely tragic.

This once great orchestra, founded by Sir Thomas Beecham, gave the first Royal Festival Hall concerts I ever went to. I'll never forget, aged 12, sitting in the RFH listening to them playing Strauss's Don Juan and feeling the socks flying from my feet as the trombones glistened and the bows scrubbed...I remember thinking, 'I want to be part of this...' - little suspecting that, instead, I'd someday marry someone who was! But today the RPO has been left out in the cold in terms of government funding. The LSO gets the lion's share, and its home in the Barbican in the City of London enables it to have around double the cash of any of the others. No wonder it sounds good. The LPO and Philharmonia share a residency at the RFH and get decentish government money at the next level down. They both sound jolly good too. The BBCSO is a law unto itself, as ever: sometimes it sounds great, sometimes it doesn't, but it's not often to blame for the latter as its raison d'etre is its often weird and taxing programming. But the RPO, not having a high-profile residency (though it does have a new Chelsea base at Cadogan Hall now), gets such paltry funding that it has to resort to many of the most miserable kinds of orchestral gigs to make ends meet. It sounds and feels seriously demoralised. A pal of mine played a concerto with them out of town a year or so ago - I went along, and sitting in a draughty, miserable hall in which I was the youngest person by 40 years, listening to a draughty, miserable orchestra, was really sad, especially when I remembered how they had sounded all those years ago. It's not that they don't try - they certainly do - and I have the greatest respect for the way they soldier on. But I think they are trapped in a vicious circle and I don't know how they can get out of it.

The LPO is off on tour to Germany, Switzerland and Ljubljana next week, with Paavo Berglund conducting and soloists including cellist Pieter Wispelwey and violinist Christian Tetzlaff. They'll have to wrap up warm because it's -11 degrees in some of these places. Tom & I tried to check the forecasts for Ljubljana on the internet last night. After trying to spell it three times, we had to give up and try 'Slovenia' instead.