Plans for the Centre for Music in London

Seeing as I expressed my views about Scala Radio earlier on today, I figured I’d do what I should have done last night about the plans for London’s newest concert hall.

Full disclosure. I’m not one of those buffs who slams his fist on the desk to complain about the lack of good acoustic spaces in London. Any concert hall feels like home to me.

Sure, I’m a purist, but I’m not an evangelist.

And, if I was being a complete pain in the arse, I’m not sure I would necessarily seek out where they’re looking to build the new Centre for Music. Unless, like the area around King’s Place in King’s Cross, such a development would finally make sense of the space.

Anyway. I’ve complicated this already. Basically. I love this design. I want this to be built. I want our version of Elbphilharmonie.

What do I love most about the Centre for Music? It’s the top floor (see helpful graphic above).

I want to be there now. I don’t care who plays. They can play out of tune for all I care. I want the thing to be built. Now.

Worth noting (for those who care). I didn’t receive a press release about this. You know, I don’t really have a problem about that. Not really. No. Really. I don’t.

Selected London Concerts This Week (Mon 5 – Sun 11 Feb 2018)

I’ve been meaning to put together a timetable of concerts like the one above for a few months now.

The original idea was borne out of the frustration I find trying to keep track of what’s going on when across the capital. After last week’s marathon set of announcements – Southbank’s 2018/19 season plus the four resident and associate orchestras, Barbican, and Wigmore Hall – I revisited the original planner idea.


It’s not meant to be exhaustive though could be if I scaled it up (something I wouldn’t mind trying eventually). Instead, it’s just a way for me to map out what’s going in a given period of time. It’s also deliberately meant to be analogue as opposed to digital. The very act of drawing out a timetable, searching through the listings and writing it into a chart increases focus, in turn helping make decisions about what to see and what not.

Note – the London Mozart Players gig is on Wednesday not Monday. We’re all allowed to make mistakes.

Scope, Range and Busy-ness

It became really obvious very very quickly (even restricting myself to just seven days) that there’s not only a lot of options to hear classical music live, but there’s also a lot of information to take in. Potential ticket buyers are having to process location, time, names of performers, and works. That’s a lot of variables being considered before deciding on what to go to.

As a freelancer I have a lot more flexibility now. Concerts on ‘school nights’ aren’t such a thorny issue like they used to be. Interestingly for me however, it’s the lunchtime opportunities which seem more appealing because I feel as though I can fit them into my day more easily where evening concerts present themselves as a commitment.


What surprises me is how an event like Martha Argerich, Janine Jansen and Mischa Maisky at Barbican this week could have completely gone unnoticed. The fact that it’s sold out makes getting a ticket at this late stage a bit of a challenge, but I’m going to give it a damn good shot. But the Marin Alsop conducting masterclasses is a must-attend. It’s free. And on a Wednesday lunchtime. Peachy.

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Classical Opera plays Beethoven’s 9th at Barbican

Classical Opera’s 20th Anniversary concert at the Barbican was an upbeat celebration – an old-school kind of concert combining readings, operatic and liturgical excerpts, with Beethoven’s 9th to finish.

Concerts like these are useful signposts. First half highlights included, the opening of Haydn’s Creation – a surprisingly complex affair, almost Beethoven-esque in aspiration. Here, the orchestra under conductor Ian Page’s direction worked hard and delivered the goods. Programmatically, hearing an excerpt from The Creation gave me impetus to revisit the work. For all the snobbery about ‘excerpts’ this makes me yearn to go more concerts with a similar editorial commitment.

The cello solo from Jonathan Byers at the opening of ‘What passion Music cannot raise and quell’ from Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day warranted the cheers from the band. Sorprano Anna Devin sung with a delectable warmth too.

The Beethoven was ambitious and valiant.

There were moments when it worked – especially in the first movement. The strings worked hard Tension was ramped up suitably. Things took a mild turn in the second movement when things appeared to moving on at quite a pace, what felt in places dangerously so.

The speed of the third movement adagio wasn’t without precedent. Hogwood’s recording with the Academy of Ancient Music took things at the same prompt speed. Something of the melancholy was lost however when the ends of phrases weren’t given due attention.

The final movement saw a return for the impressive line-up of soloists and chorus, the latter in particular demonstrating their precision and carefully deployed tone to great effect – the undisputed stars of the concert.

The Rattle Effect

I’ve never met conductor Simon Rattle, but I did find myself standing within 2 metres of the great man today on my way into Barbican Music Library.
It was an incredibly exciting moment. My heart raced a bit. I was in danger of going a bit fan-boyish. I didn’t, obviously. I’m not completely unprofessional.
There’s an exhibition of artefacts from his career just inside the Barbican Music Library – part of the ‘This is Rattle’ series at Barbican which starts tomorrow.
In amongst all sorts of knick-knacks, I was amazed to discover he secured his Grade 1 Violin at the age of 11 (this is his ABRSM report sheet below – it was a distinction, inevitably). He debuted at the BBC Proms 11 years later.
Nearly bumping into him today took me by surprise. There is an excitement in the air ahead of his return to the London Symphony Orchestra, and its palpable.
It feels like there’s a tremendous sense of hope pinned on his stewardship, not just for the already brilliant London Symphony Orchestra, but also for classical music in the UK in general. He is an electrifying force to be around. 
I didn’t really expect to feel the way I did when I saw him. As I reflect on it more, I’ve no idea what my sense of hope is based on nor where the need originates from especially. But I can’t deny that the beginning of the ‘This is Rattle’ series tomorrow is an exciting prospect.
That experience of is how I remember the beginning of the Proms season back when I joined the BBC in 2005. And I cannot remember the last time over the past 15 years when I’ve experienced it since. That’s some force Mr Rattle has. 

Mahler 9 / Bernard Haitink / London Symphony Orchestra / Barbican

Time your departure from the concert hall right and you’ll experience the real magic of a live classical music concert.

Minutes after a platform crammed-full of musicians have transported you somewhere you never imagined you needed to go, you’ll see those same individuals make their journey home in the same way you do.

Magic followed by the banality of everyday life. That’s the miracle of music-making in London.

­Expansive as it is, Mahler’s 9th symphony is remarkably efficient. That’s another miracle worth noting: the composer’s deft hand on the manuscript.

Time passes quickly. There are no flabby bits. When you’re not marvelling at the beauty of the sound and the place you find yourself in, you’re gawping in disbelief at the majesty of the composer’s achievement.

Mahler’s mastery puts his listener at the centre of the drama. That’s surprising to me. I’d always approached Mahler’s music with the assumption that it was primarily intended as an autobiographical in intent. I’d been intimidated as a result.

A schoolboy error. Romanticism 101.  What Mahler triumphs in doing is cocooning the listener in the composer’s sound world. We’re not observing his drama, we’re living our own. We learn about ourselves.

Any decent performance of his music follows that lead. If the performance is good you won’t be thinking about the band. Their efforts will be secondary, even though without them the music is nothing.

We don’t seek perfection. We don’t seek a faultless performance. Instead we seek jeopardy, vulnerability,  and humanity.

If you still insist on perfection, then the final section of the first movement and principal flute Gavin Davies’ heart-stopping solo would be the place to look. If everything around you has fallen still, you know something special has occurred on stage.

There were a moments when the ensemble didn’t quite work. Actually, in truth, there was really only one – the approach to the climax in the final movement when the string ensemble wobbled just a little bit.

No matter. What we also demand is authenticity.

If there was a momentary lack of discipline, it was more than made up for the breathtaking dynamic contrasts as the final movement ebbed away. A moment we knew had to come to an end, but one we longer to continue for as long as was humanly possible.

When the players stood to take the applause, I counted three individuals on the front desk wiping a tear from their faces. That’s all the proof you need you’ve participated in something special.

Tonight’s performance of Mahler’s 9th symphony was dedicated to the victims and their families of last night’s terror attack in Manchester.