Tag Archives: LSO

Thanks for the music Sir Colin

14 Apr

Sir Colin accepting the applause after an LSO concert at the Barbican on 11 December 2011

We use the word legend far too easily but applying it to a great maestro of the stature of Sir Colin Davis is very appropriate.

In the last decade I had the chance to see him conduct his beloved London Symphony Orchestra many times. Every time their sound had a special sheen that somehow only he could conjure. His contribution to the musical life of this country and all over the world through his many tours and recordings is possibly the most important of the post war era. Unlike many of his contemporaries his quiet dignity from the podium was for me his unique characteristic. In the concert hall he radiated calm concentration and gravitas. The attention was not focused on an egomaniac maestro but to a musical family coming together.

Last June’s absolutely spellbinding Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts was an incredibly moving evening of music making. A family friend had died the same day and in my head I dedicated the stellar performance to his memory. I decided not to put into writing how it affected me that evening as it all felt very raw. Almost a year later it is a sad realisation it was also the last time I saw Sir Colin conduct but also a great last memory to have. A man who made music his life, conducting a composer that he single-handedly brought to contemporary focus and championed like no one else. This was the final farewell to his life’s work and a chapter of music history was written. Only last month the recording of those two performances at St Paul’s was issued. I will play my copy in memory of a great evening and a consummate musician that touched all our lives and will continue to inspire us for as long there is recorded music, rest in peace Sir Colin. You will be sorely missed and this Tuesday’s The Turn of the Screw performance will have a special poignancy knowing that you were meant to have conducted it.

PS I will giggle for ever more with Sir Colin’s response to my tweet when he was being interviewed in 2011 by Gareth Davies. Of course I had to ask about knitting 😉 His response is near the 14minute mark.

A great rehearsal gallery on BBC Radio 3’s website

The announcement of his passing on the LSO’s website

The page aggregating condolences on the LSO website

Mark Berry’s wonderful tribute to Sir Colin on his blog

Interview in The Independent when he took over his role at the LSO as Principal Conductor in 1993

Interview in The Guardian in 2011

Jessica Duchen’s interview with Sir Colin in March 2012

The Guardian obituary

Tributes by colleagues in The Guardian

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Ticciati excites and Maltman moves / London Symphony Orchestra / Barbican Hall – 15 March 2012

16 Mar

Ah the LSO! It can deliver unimaginable riches on a random Thursday evening, like last night.

Under the baton of Robin Ticciati they sounded like a different orchestra, all lightness and bounce. Of course from my very cheap seats I could only see his legs moving about and I presume it was a very physical display from his upper body. Something one has to expect by a lean 29 year old. Clearly their very recent trip to China may have invigorated them for a sparkly homecoming.

The Strauss was utterly beautiful, the tempi reserved and being at the cheapest seats on front row, we got a real treat hearing at such proximity some gorgeous tremolos from the double basses. A shame really that that very proximity meant that we could also hear a mobile phone going off backstage which was very annoying! The all too important bursts of percussion were thunderous and mournful. It was gorgeous and a great opener to the evening.

Christopher Maltman’s Mahler was so beautiful and measured, as near as it gets to lack of ego on a big stage. His dry resonant baritonal voice was in full command of the requirements. His emotional investment all too clear to see and hear. Ticciati quote in the programme on Maltman ‘He brings a kind of lieder-esque quality in his emotional response to music…’ was spot on, he imbued colourful, suitably subdued singing with emotion and sensational beauty. This was a truly accomplished performance with great attention to the text but also with a good ear for the orchestra. Ticciati kept the volume of orchestra and voice at the same volume which gave the piece a more intimate feel in contrast to the two other items in the programme. Seeing Maltman walk past after the end with tears in his eyes was as moving as his singing. I will surely be looking forward to seeing him again in concert and opera.

The Brahms symphony was as playful as you would expect, and with the LSO in a sprightly mood it was toe tappingly beautiful and the conductor’s fast tempi really made it breeze by. The rustic sounding Allegretto was a particular highlight. A mix of incisive playing and the right amount of fluency and relaxation created the right atmosphere. Even a chap in the end of the second row managed to stay awake despite clearly his body was telling him otherwise 😉

The band was clearly happy with the loud response from the audience and we all were extremely proud of them. Now if only the in between movements breaks we were not faced with a wall of coughing, life would be even better. The LSO showed its worth once more and I hope they will be booking Ticciati many more times in the near future, as the chemistry is clearly very potent.

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Here’s the programme from the LSO’s website (PDF)

A few Tweets from the evening

My top 11 discoveries / realisations of 2011

19 Dec

This was a pretty intense year and thought it would be good to make a list of inspirational mainly operatic highs of 2011

1 Twitter

It was the first full year that I’ve used the network as a great resource for news and also as direct communication on matters operatic and not. Met some great people through it and started some very interesting conversations.

2 Beverly Sills

This year I immersed myself in the recorded output of the diva from Brooklyn. A great artist with an intriguing personality to boot. Surely one of the finest coloratura sopranos of the 20th century and worth going back to her for renewal and inspiration.

3 Veronique Gens

The year (almost) started with her magisterial Niobe at Covent Garden and finished with her fantastic  recital at Wigmore Hall. A diva cut off the old cloth of greatness.

4 Allan Clayton

First noticed him this year in a small part in Britten’s Dream, then I saw him triumph in Castor and Pollux and L’Enfance du Christ. A loud voice for the future, hope ENO and RO will give him more substantial roles to sink his teeth into.

5 Iestyn Davis

Never one for countertenors, but his performance in Britten’s Dream was magnetic and his Niobe contribution very substantial. A young British voice to shake up the world of opera and early music.

6 LSO

Have always loved the London Symphony Orchestra but this year they have been stunning. Also one of the most adept to Twitter orchestras on the planet. A band all Londoners should be proud of and should patronise with frequency.

7 Anne Sophie von Otter

Like a well aged Claret, ASvO is a European treasure. Her captivating Wigmore Hall recital was intoxicating to the max. Greatness without the hollow diva attitude. Looking forward to her LSO collaboration early in  February 2012.

8 Alice Coote

Listened to her sing Les nuits d’été years ago at the Proms and was terribly impressed, her triumphantly sulky Prince Charmant in Cendrillon was breathtaking. Her upcoming Winterreise  at Wigmore Hall will be an early highlight of 2012 (there are still a few tickets left, grab them quickly!)

9 Joyce DiDonato

The Yankeediva is a charismatic performer that elevated Cendrillon to stratospheric heights, her Ariodante was to die for, despite the awful orchestra and still a fun Twitter person to have disagreements and banter with.

10 Mark-Anthony Turnage

He gave us Anna Nicole, which was plethoric in its gay abandon and a great showcase for the considerable gifts of Eva Maria Westbroek, the darkness of Twice Through the Heart with the excellent Sarah Connolly and his remarkable music for Undance.

11 Sylvie Guillem

Managed to see her new mixed bill evening at Sadler’s Wells in its two outings back in early July and late September. She was absolutely wonderful both times. A rare dance treat. She continues to be the measure of all dancers, a standard for excellence.

If you had an epiphany of an artistic nature in 2011, feel free to add your top whatever in the comment section and Merry Xmas 😉

Britten: War Requiem / LSO / Noseda / Barbican Hall – 11 October 2011

13 Oct

 ‘…the work is so superbly proportioned and calculated, so humiliating and disturbing in effect, in fact so tremendous, that every performance it is given ought to be a momentous occasion.’ (published in The Times on 31 May 1962 after the world première in Coventry Cathedral)

Reading the words by the music critic of The Times after the world première is summing up the impressive proportions of the work and the high expectations the audience has every time it is performed live. It is demanding three exceptional soloists and in many ways any live performance has to fight past the wonderfully magnetic premiere recording by Britten himself holding the baton with Vilshnevskaya, Pears and Fischer-Dieskau. Of course it is interesting how this work written to celebrate the opening of Coventry Cathedral by Basil Spence (actually performed 5 days after the official opening/consecration) was to fall foul of cold war politics after the Soviet government did not allow Vilshnevskaya to take part in the first performance, Britten had to make do with Heather Harper. Ironically the three different nationalities of the soloists were meant to be emblematic of reconciliation but in reality it proved an unattainable target till the 1963 recording for Decca where the LSO is paired with Britten’s three ideal singers.

Having been all too familiar with the famous recording I had high expectations and a clear idea how difficult it must be to pull it off live. It was initially disappointing not to have Sir Colin Davis conduct it as originally advertised (amusingly Davis conducted Peter Racine Fricker’s The Golden Warrior two weeks after the first performance of Britten’s magnus opus, which was contributed by Sadler’s Wells to the arts festival for the opening of the cathedral) but Noseda was terrific as it happens!

Britten’s take on the standard Requiem is fascinating. He mixes the finite sounding Latin mass for the dead with Wilfred Owen’s war poetry in his goal to express his abhorrence for war and its consequences. The soprano is the only soloist singing in Latin providing a focus with her tutti with the choir. The tenor and baritone are involved in conversational passages and longer solos only accompanied by a small portion of the orchestra. The boys are accompanied by a bland organ accompaniment adding a certain English charm. What was very clear in the vocal writing for the tenor was how close in form it is to Oberon’s part in Midsummer night’s dream that he had completed two years before the Requiem. There’s a certain crystalline purity of line that is terribly alluring in the right hands.

The way the separate forces were distributed across the stage and the auditorium was a thoughtful touch and true to Britten’s instructions. The soprano was amidst the front row of the choir in the middle of the stage. The tenor and baritone were on the left of the conductor with the children’s choir and chamber organ tacked away at the back left of the Balcony. An interesting use of the acoustic was having the boys face to the side, thus their otherworldly, uninvolved with stage action, singing was hovering above our heads.

The true star of the evening was the London Symphony Chorus which uttered their opening phrases in Requiem aeternam with such subtlety and bitterness, instantly setting the tone for the whole evening. Britten wanted horror and creepiness from the chorus and he surely got that from the LSC. Their singing was attentive to the instructions of Noseda and had the required force and energy where required e.g. Dies irae.

Ian Bostridge has been a Britten specialist for most of his career and surely his engagement with the material was total. His opening solo was full of sensitivity and beautifully enunciated English as befitting the narration of Owen’s war poetry. He clearly engaged his whole body while singing, thrusting himself forward to reach the climactic moment in Agnus Dei. He was as wonderful to listen to as it was to look at.

Simon Keenlyside is a piece of butch baritonal hunkiness (as confirmed in the recent Pelleas) and he was excellent throughout but for me he lacked a little bit of idiomatic affinity with the piece. He was more Keenlyside than a German soldier in the mould of Fischer-Dieskau. Looking forward to change my mind, maybe, when I listen to the CD release of the concert. He just sounded a bit too heavy handed, at times verging into camp parody (especially in the Abraham passage).

Sabina Cvilac did a good job too, but seemed on the small size vocally to cut through the bells, trumpets and huge choir at times. Her tone was warm, but not as troubled sounding or commanding as Vishnevskaya’s. Someone with heavier artillery (terrible pun) would have given more punch to the Latin script and propelled it across the auditorium with more ferocity.

Britten’s complex textures with glistening strings and menacing percussion surely needs an orchestra at the top its game and the LSO once more impressed beyond measure. They were assured and well honed. Clearly in sync with Noseda (not a too frequent collaborator) and serving the music and their own world class reputation with aplomb. I am terribly happy that both performances were recorded to be preserved. The upcoming CD will hopefully transmit the excellent night we all had at the hall and how Britten’s shattering vision was brought to life and unfolded in front of us in 90 relentless minutes. It truly was a wonderful evening and with a piece that relays uncertainty and horror. A good match for the world we live in, torn by wars and on the edge of financial collapse.

Here’s an interesting photo gallery on the LSO’s Facebook account (look out for the stage plan!)

Here is the PDF of the programme

Britten’s War Requiem

11 Oct

After months of waiting, tonight will be my first ever live War Requiem. Glad it is courtesy of a sterling team and reading through the reviews of the first performance on Sunday, it will be a grand occasion.

You can join in by reading through the programme notes, kindly provided by the LSO, download the PDF here . Tonight’s performance alongside Sunday’s are being recorded for future CD release.

More (hopefully) tomorrow or follow my Tweets for more immediate off the cuff commentary!

The noisy way to please

8 Mar

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Programme:
MESSIAEN Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum
BRUCKNER Symphony No 9

Sir Simon Rattle conductor
London Symphony Orchestra

It has been years since I’ve seen Simon Rattle live and a year ago bought a couple of tickets for tonight’s concert at the Barbican. It was the perfect opportunity to avoid the noise and promo madness of his residency with Berlin Phil and to see him again with the wonderful LSO. Of course a major positive was the lack of Mahler from this programme, he just bores me witless (have promised myself to have another go at the old man when I turn 50…in 17 years, ‘nough said!).

The Messiaen was a bold bit of programming and a touch of Rattle’s genuine love for contemporary music that has been his calling card for over thirty years. This particular piece was tough loving for the audience, but in my view a very good way to start the evening. Having the woodwinds, brass and percussion of the orchestra blaze through his undulating angular forms was a joy. Rattle managed to find beauty in the unconventional rhythms the composer provided him with and the players of the orchestra responded with panache and precision. The crescendos in parts 3 and 4 where verging on the deafening from the second row of the stalls that we were sitting! But it was almost an aural cleansing preparing us for the wondrous  architectural greatness of the Bruckner.

It was quite funny watching members of the orchestra shielding their ears during those loud, exclamatory percussion laden concluding segments. And despite any technical hair-splitting, which I’m the least qualified to do, ( I tend to  judge live performances on the strength of the visceral impression they make) I can say one thing about the Messiaen, it surely gave me goose bumps as the last movement was reaching its climax. It was powerful and some of his spatial/sound effects where brilliant and in a way reminded one that the composer’s main occupation as a church organist. Now if we could grab the LSO and drag them into an ancient cathedral the sights and smells of the place would surely enhance the mesmerising effect.


I came in after the interval fearing that Rattle would go for overtly slow tempi (which it seems to becoming a bit of a problem for him lately) and make the Symphony drag unnecessarily. I shouldn’t have done, my partner actually mentioned how lively Rattle was at the podium and indeed his timings were brisk. In the first movement his emphasis on the individual phrases was impressive, the very good acoustic of the Barbican really helped him to sculpt the sound around quiet melodies and the silence in between incidents. His approach may not have been in the same line of enquiry as Bruno Walter or John Barbirolli who emphasised the overall structure of the Symphony. Rattle added his personal touches to it that made it an emotionally charged testament by a conductor that feels at ease with the material and at home with the Orchestra.

For me the star of the show was the second movement. Where Rattle brought out the dance aspect of the music, his treatment of the trio was bringing up memories of Stravinsky’s ballet music, it was fun and powerful but at the same time very elegant (the luscious string playing was magical) . It was a surprise for me and an interesting contribution in the middle of a very grand orchestral edifice (the piece, after all requires a 107 member orchestra!) . Rattle allowed the formality of the piece to come though but at the same time little charming incidents throughout were given space to develop and transport the listener.

When people ask why is Rattle a special conductor it’s a night like this they have to experience. The playing he extracted from The LSO may not have been totally faultless but it was arresting and with a humane, beating heart in its middle. It’s what great music should do, it should be perfect escapism but at the same time excite the spirit and the senses.

And of course dear reader you can make your mind by listening to the broadcast on BBC Radio 3, on at 7pm, 14 March, here’s the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zdfj6

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