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

Friday, August 25, 2017

A steamy date in Snape

Spent most of yesterday driving to and from Aldeburgh with the OH to experience a very special night of Strauss and Elgar at the Snape Proms. Renée Fleming sang the Strauss Four Last Songs and the programme was topped and tailed with his Till Eulenspiegel and Elgar's Symphony No.1. On the platform was a familiar presence who's nevertheless unusual in the context of this orchestra. It wasn't his first concert with them by a long chalk, but the first in a little while. So, with apologies to The Guardian's 'Blind Date', here's what happened when Ed Gardner met the LPO.

You'd never think that just behind you is one of the best concert halls in the country

What were they hoping for?
A dynamic partnership of orchestra and conductor in which sympathy is found, sparks can fly and the audience can get really excited about the music. At least, that's usually what they want. 

What did they talk about?
The end of days, intentionally or not. Poor Till is hanged at the end of his Strauss tone poem (I must look up what he's supposed to have done to deserve it - maybe he spoke out about politics...). The Four Last Songs are, well, the four last songs, ending implicitly with the souls of Richard and Pauline rising towards heaven in the form of larks; and Elgar, in his Symphony No.1, takes an eloquent "idée fixe" melody with regular, walking-type accompaniment and then, to use a modern-day trendy word, 'disrupts' it in almost every way conceivable in England in 1908. It was hard not to read the second movement as a macabre, scherzoid battle scene. The final pages, in which the theme returns surrounded by a great musical firework display, seemed simultaneously a celebration and a fearfully pertinent farewell to a vanishing era.

Rehearsal in Snape Maltings
Renée Fleming's performance of the Four Last Songs, and the encores Cäcilie and Morgen, offered a raw revelation of innermost heart, at times almost spoken more than sung; however quiet she goes, her voice still shimmers through the music fabric as only hers can, drawing us in towards her and softly wringing us out. Explaining the encores, she noted that the two they had chosen were early works dating from around the time of Strauss's marriage, and adding: "I just want to say: thank God he married a soprano..."

Any awkward moments?
If so, very few and well masked. 

Good podium manner?
Splendid. Gardner is debonair, extrovert, charismatic, with plenty of audience appeal. For the orchestra, one has the impression he seems clear, positive and cogent, wearing his expertise lightly.

Best things about the meeting?
The freshness of it. Imagine a spouse who is used to - and loves - long, deep, intense conversations, in which each word is controlled with immense precision and the underlying philosophy must be considered at every moment...suddenly taking a walk with someone who laces up his boots, links his arm through hers and points out the dramas among passers by, the green parrots flying about and the sun sparkling on the water and says "great, so what do you want for lunch?"

Gardner is a splendid storyteller, pacing the narrative and sustaining tension over long expanses of music with vivid colour and detail around a rock-solid core. 

In addition, it was a massive treat to hear the home band in the Aldeburgh acoustic, which is warm and flattering, bloomy and gorgeous.

Would you send your friends to hear them?
Heavens, yes.

Describe the meeting in three words.
Energetic, inspiring, promising.

What do you think they made of each other?
Very different from one another, but they seemed keen to adapt, to find common ground and to, er, make beautiful music together.

Might they go on somewhere?
They might. We'll have to see.

And...did they kiss?
Definitely having a good old flirt. 

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Distance. It's a long way to Aldeburgh and we didn't get home til nearly 2am. 

Marks out of 10?
Eight.

Might they meet again?
I reckon so.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Will power!



Happy Shakespeare's Birthday, everyone! 

There are Shakespeare concerts absolutely everywhere tonight and I'm off to do a pre-concert talk for the one at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, where Lahav Shani - the young conductor who won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition the time I went to watch it in Bamberg - is at the helm for the CBSO's one. The programme involves three very different works based on the same Shakespeare play: Romeo and Juliet. We'll be looking at how Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Bernstein all made this drama their own, each staying true to the spirit of Shakespeare as they viewed him, yet imbuing the story with their own time, place and personality. The talk is at 5.45pm - please note, half an hour earlier than usual! - and the concert starts at 7pm. Info and booking here. Do come along.

I am quite sorry not to be hearing the LPO's Shakespeare extravaganza today, though. They're doing everything from A Midsummer Night's Dream to Henry V and finishing with the end of Falstaff, and they've got Simon Callow and an amazing line-up of singers including Toby Spence and Kate Royal. Vladimir Jurowski conducts. Read Vlad's Shakespearean insights here.

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]