This Diet Coke ad features the London Symphony Orchestra performing the famous “just for the taste of it” jingle.
Semyon Bychkov has already impressed me with his handling of last year’s revival of the Royal Opera House’s Don Carlos, so his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra was one of the concerts that jumped out at me when I was doing my last bit of booking back in December. Just as well.
He opened his programme with Dvořák’s Carnival Overture. While I’m a big fan of Dvořák, this isn’t a piece that’s ever especially grabbed me before and hence not one I know all that well. From the opening bars I began to wonder why. Bychkov unleashed the LSO in a phenomenal display of energy and precision. It made for a real party piece, full of orchestral fireworks, and an excellent curtain raiser.
After a brief pause while the piano was raised up through the floor (an always fun to watch quirk of the Barbican – much more interesting than just having it pushed on from the back of the stage), Denis Matsuev joined them for Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto. He proved every bit the match to Bychkov and the LSO. He maintained clarity through some rapid and intricate passages and found all the necessary weight without recourse to thumping the keyboard. Beneath him, Bychkov balanced his forces well, ensuring the pianist wasn’t overwhelmed by the comparatively large orchestra. And yet it wasn’t all fireworks – there was plenty of tenderness and beauty in the slow movement.
With more than 400 works to his name, Wolfgang Rihm is among the most prolific living composers. The BBC Symphony Orchestra exposed us to a fraction of this oeuvre in the form of one of its Total Immersion Saturdays at the Barbican — his 58th birthday, as it happened. The previous evening, at LSO St Lukes, the Arditti Quartet had given a mainly Rihm programme as part of the same venture.
Rihm was present to attend the concerts and be interviewed in the Mozart Room by Ivan Hewett, an interesting exchange, marred only by aqueous amplification. He came over as a hugely genial figure, unassuming yet instinctively confident, insightful yet down-to-earth; an insatiable creator, who, though a great revisiter and recycler of scores (he once said: “Double bar lines at the end are really only vertically extended colons”) is free from fuss, from fidgety perfectionism.
He just keeps writing, and, rather as with Schubert, whom he resembles a touch, it is daunting to contemplate merely the physical labour of producing so many scores. The volume of his music, and a certain stylistic flexibility he allows himself, make it difficult, I find, to get a purchase on his achievement, to sum him up or even describe his manner, if he has one. I’ve heard numerous works by him over the years (right back to the early Almeida Festival staging of the opera Jakob Lenz), but would not readily think of his music, or other people’s, as “Rihmian” in the way that the adjective “Birt wistlean” repeatedly offers itself.
The first of two Rihm works played by the Ardittis, his single-span String Quartet No 5 — dis ingenuously subtitled “Ohne Titel”, as if quartets usually did have titles — sounded as though the most extreme aspects of Bartok’s quartet style — the crunching dissonances and pizzicati, the rebarbative continuity — had been taken to a new and unsuspected extreme.
The intimations of both Ravel and Stravinsky in Colin Matthews’ opulent orchestrations of Debussy’s gusty Preludes “The Wind in the Plain” and “What the West Wind Saw” made for a quite incestuous feel to this the second of John Adams’ cunningly devised concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra. All five composers cross-fertilised in interesting ways.
Matthews’ take on the Debussy Preludes was governed by a desire to make them as orchestral in texture and as far removed from the piano as was conceivably possible. It’s what the best orchestral transcriptions always do and why Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition at times feels as though the plainer piano original came after and not before. Flickers of “Gnomus” and “Baba Yaga” breezed through the Matthews, the headiness of Ravelian rather than Debussian colours making for an exotic palette.
Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales then generated their own turbulence, the sort produced by sensuous swirling bodies. The problem was, though, that Adams, the conductor, slightly short-changed us on the swoon and salivation of these hedonistic morsels, failing to exploit through phrasing and rubato the full variety of pleasure that they offer. In short, they were rather stiffly, uniformly, despatched.
Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor and artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker since September 2002, will collaborate with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) at the Barbican for the first time in 10 years, when he returns to conduct Messiaen’s Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum and Bruckner’s Symphony No 9 in March 2011.
Sir Simon last conducted the LSO in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos in 2000. He will also accompany the Berliner Philharmoniker to London for a series of four concerts in the same year. The London Concerts series opens at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 20 February, and continues with two concerts at the Barbican Centre, concluding at the Royal Festival Hall. All four events are already sold out. Sir Simon said: “I am delighted to be returning. This will enable us to share with London audiences the heart of our work.”
The LSO is running a little joke competition on their Facebook page. Who said classical music was boring?
Here is my favourite:
A famous conductor was about to go on stage to perform with one of the world’s best orchestra’s when suddenly he was taken ill. The orchestra manager was frantic, and had no idea what to do, when a young viola player came forward, saying he knew the piece, had done a bit of conducting, and would be happy to step in. The concert was a roaring success – never before had the orchestra performed with such vigour, excitement and sensitivity. The audience went wild. The critics went wild. The orchestra were in raptures – a star was born!! Back stage after the concert the viola player was surrounded by his colleagues and friends, all wanting to congratulate him. He spotted his fellow viola players all standing nearby and went to see them. “Guys!! So? What did you think?!” They all turned to him and said “About bloody time!!! Where the f*** have you been??”
The Frans Lanting Studio announced the London Premiere of the multimedia production of LIFE: A Journey Through Time, which will be performed for a special evening “Celebrating Our Planet,” on Sunday February 21, 2010, at London’s Barbican Centre.
Marin Alsop will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in this new performance of LIFE, which features the imagery of Frans Lanting and the music of Philip Glass in a one-hour multimedia orchestral production that celebrates the splendor of life on Earth. LIFE interprets the history of life on our planet in seven movements, from its earliest beginnings to its present diversity, in a work that merges the photographic arts, science, and music. “Lanting’s majestic photographs dance lightly across a huge screen over the orchestra, while some of Glass’s most elegant music pulses underneath,” writes The Washington Post.
It’s a celebration of nature in all its glory.
Alsop, the Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted the world premiere of LIFE in Santa Cruz, California, in 2006, as well as subsequent performances in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and at New York’s Lincoln Center. Since its premiere, LIFE has been performed in major concert halls in both North America and Europe, and for celebrations including the Gala Opening of the World Science Festival in New York, the World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico, and in Geneva, Switzerland, at the official ceremony to inaugurate CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful machine ever built to study the origins of the universe.
- About LIFE Music and the Artistic Team:
- About The LIFE Project:
- Frans Lanting Studio
- Tickets for LIFE in London: