BBC Symphony Orchestra to move out of historic Maida Vale studios

Announced today. The BBC Symphony Orchestra along with the BBC Singers will move into new premises in East London in 2022/23. 

It’s not a complete surprise. Many who work at the BBCSO’s present home have vigorously pointed to the former skating rink’s unsuitability as a base for the orchestra. In particular its music library which was, the last time I was in there, prone to leaks in the roof whenever there was rain over Maida Vale.

And given that most of the BBC’s other orchestras have purpose-built premises designed for their primary function as a radio orchestra, it seems only right that the flagship band gets an upgrade. 

But there’s a sting in the tail. The BBC’s Maida Vale studios may no longer be fit for purpose, but they are even more part of the Corporation’s fabric than Television Centre was. Historic recordings were made at Maida Vale (not just classical music but in multiple genres). It is an incredible location, and part of the organisation’s history.

I notice the press release makes absolutely no mention of Maida Vale, suggesting its another building the BBC will sell off. It’s a bold move to make such a break with the past. Celebrating the past is an absolute must. Maybe we’ll see that when the BBC marks its centenary in 2022. 

Review: Symphony Psalms & Prayers / Tenebrae / BBC Symphony Orchestra

Symphonic Psalms and Prayers from Tenebrae and the BBC Symphony Orchestra is a beautifully curated selection of choral works by Berstein, Stravinsky and Zemlinsky. The crowning glory is undoubtedly a recording of Schoenberg work Friede auf Erden.

It’s also a stunningly produced recording capturing two recording locations – Maida Vale studios and St Augustine’s Church in Kilburn – but four distinct sound worlds.

Stravinsky’s three movement ‘symphony’ for voices and orchestra has a dry theatrical pit sound. The padded intimacy surrounding the chamber orchestra gives this performance an irresistible sense of urgency and menace.

Tenebrae‘s smooth texture punctuated by cut glass consonants make Friede auf Erden the real highpoint of the album. Schoenberg’s constantly shifting harmonies are spun into increasingly intense harmonic climaxes. Tenebrae’s exquisite performance is bright sunshine cutting through a deep blue sky. I absolutely adore this. Revelatory.

The production choices made for Berstein’s Chichester Psalms provide this album with another fresh perspective, giving the BBC Symphony Orchestra far greater depth than I’ve heard before, emphasising the vast musical (almost Copland-esque) canvas in Bernstein’s score. This expansive sound is contrasted deftly with a dry precise articulation in the second movement. And at the beginning of the third movement, a string sound shaped by audiophiles for audiophiles, demonstrating breathtaking dynamic contrasts, and gripping ensemble playing.

I was less keen on the Zemlinksy, although musically it’s inclusion at the end of the album did work. In terms of material I’m less convinced about some of the twee-sounding moments in his setting of Psalm 23 compared to say the comparatively more sophisticated musical orthodoxy Bernstein brings to his score in the Chichester Psalms.

Sure, I know that sounds a bit pompous. All I really mean is, I think Bernstein’s twee-ness is more convincing in the context of the Chichester Psalms than Zemlinsky’s.

But it’s a very minor point. One wonders why I’ve even bothered to mention it because to my mind Tenebrae and the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Symphonic Psalms is the most brilliant thing about 2018 so far. And whilst I don’t really wash with awards and understand less how they’re decided on, I think I’d like to see this pick one up for Signum.

Discover Tenebrae’s Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Berstein album on Idagio
Symphonic Psalms with Tenebrae and the BBC Symphony Orchestra is also available on Spotify

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.

Caveats

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.

Must-Attends

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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BBC Proms 2017 / 7: Berlioz Symphony fantastique / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Joshua Weilerstein

Disappointed by this performance of Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique.

Some caveats necessary. I’ve heard Symphonie fantastique a lot. I’m familiar with the work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that to show off. My formative listening experience was via University lecturer Denis McCaldin who introduced me and a whole bunch of reluctant second-year music history undergrads to Roger Norrington’s ‘authentic’ recording with the London Classical Players. Anything that tries to follow that is going to struggle. Norrington was, at the time, doing a ground-breaking thing.

Weilerstein got into his stride by the third movement. But there were some missed opportunities – pausing to ‘place’ a chord in the woodwind soon before the end might have created a sense of anticipation. And the coda in the final movement was also a bit strange.