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.