Friday, November 16, 2007

It all started with a piece of paper...

I'm just back from gatecrashing a Heliane rehearsal, reeling from the impact of the sheer quantity of sound and from the emotional shock of realising that it's all true. I never dared to hope I would hear this music live. But they are bloody well doing it, under the baton of my absolute hero Vladimir Jurowski - and it's going to be amazing.

There's a striking difference between reading about this work and hearing it on CD, compared to seeing it taking shape in the rehearsal hall. We know it has a huge orchestra. But there's barely room for everyone in the normally spacious Henry Wood Hall. Four keyboard instruments: piano, harmonium, organ and celesta. Two harps. Marimba, xylophone, tubular bells, drums-cymbals-triangle, tamtam. Sixteen first violins, I didn't count how many double basses, a whole extra brass section offstage in the balcony. Then, just when I thought I'd seen it all, in came a chap carrying a guitar. Then there are the singers. And the chorus wasn't even there today.

It all started with a piece of paper. Two and a half or three years ago, I realised this anniversary was looming and it was obvious that if someone didn't do something about it, nothing would happen. I put together my fantasy-football Korngold anniversary festival and took it to the head of classical music at the South Bank Centre, with the suggestion of three strands - concert music, cinema, opera - and the information that Das Wunder der Heliane was in need of a UK premiere. But I never imagined they'd actually do it.

It is a humungous undertaking. Just imagine the number of people involved... not just the 120-odd performers but their spouses soothing the fevered brows, their friends picking up the pieces, their neighbours hearing the practising; then the people who fix the dates, book the travel, shift the suitcases, coach the German, cook the dinners, hire the orchestra parts, rehair the bows, print the programmes, mend the computers, put up the microphones... This performance is going to touch literally thousands of lives in one way or another; every person's experience of it is going to be different. I could probably squeeze at least a trilogy of novels out of it. There's Korngold's granddaughter, welcomed everywhere with open arms, red carpets and chocolate; the singers, whether established stars or young supporting cast, getting to grips with new roles that will stretch them in new ways; old friends, new fans and the inevitable sceptics converging on London... And all because enough people have enough faith in this project to become cogs in the wheel that makes it happen. I sat in the balcony to listen (near the offstage brass) and could almost feel the ghost of Big Erich brushing by, having a good old chortle about it, and perhaps a little tear too.

Lots of coverage in the newspapers now, which is nice to see. You can read a piece in yesterday's Guardian by Andrew Huth and today's Telegraph by Ivan Hewett. Both pieces are well written but, be warned, phenomenally inaccurate. Here's my Composer of the Month piece from BBC Music Magazine which, I hope, gets the basic stuff right.