Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Queuing for returns at the Barbican

It's an unusual sight: a line of people snaking through that sunless foyer behind a sign marked 'Queue here for returns'. The Barbican was full to busting last night for the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra new season, Gergiev conducting Mahler 3.

A startling performance, containing moments of phenomenal magic. The opening of musical windows as Pan brushes through in a gust of air from another world at the end of the second movement, shaking away the offstage enchantment of the Venetian song; the hushed tremolandi in which the whole audience held its breath; Anna Larsson's persuasive mezzo uttering the words 'O Mensch'; the choirs singing from memory; the ultimate tenderness as the final movement began.

Gergiev has the most extraordinary hands: big, loose paws with talons that quiver and shiver and flap, expressive to the last fingertip. I don't know how anybody follows his beat, but the chemistry is powerful: not so much a beat as a thread, created by charisma and, one supposes, respect, a tightrope of communication on which the orchestra balanced with poise and assurance.

It was also extremely loud. The first movement left me reaching for a non-existent volume knob. Was it the hall or the orchestra? Should one have this sensation in Mahler? Are we so desensitised by pop music and aeroplanes and iPods etc that we need excessive loudness in Mahler too? Still, it was worth it. Lingering images include Larsson, resplendent in a wonderful dress of dusky pink and plum-coloured silk, apparently transfixed by Gergiev's feet as they left the podium for the air in the last movement; the lengthy ovation, which didn't want to end; and my companion for the evening remarking, on the way out, 'we have a DVD of Lenny doing this which is really incredible...'

So, they're queuing for returns at the LSO; the refurbished RFH has more life in it than ever before; you can't get into anything good at the Wigmore for love or money; and the Proms has recently announced that this season produced its best-ever ticket sales. The Ring opens next week and they've scheduled an extra 'preview' cycle, which began yesterday. Forgive me for saying so, but from here it doesn't look as if classical music is dead.