LSO: Birtwistle Violin Concerto / Knussen Symphony No. 3 / Elgar Enigma / Simon Rattle

It wasn’t faultless. But, truth be told, faultless would have been disappointing.

There were shaky moments in the Elgar – chords anticipated which probably could have done with a moment before they were placed. A premature woodwind cue as well.

Elgar’s Enigma work settled down by the third variation. The strings worked hard – the rapport between Rattle and the section undeniable. This is where Rattle’s impact was felt most keenly, the entire section sounding like one breathing entity.

Members of the string section were visibly moved after the final variation. “That was very good,” mouthed one of the firsts to her desk partner.

Birtwistle’s Violin Concerto is a lengthy and demanding work, for soloist and audience alike, stitched together with a rich violin solo that showcased the technical mastery and considerable stamina of Christian Tetzlaff.

Musically, Ades’ Asyla was the most engaging work – a sensory overload scored by a composer whose concise writing makes for an absorbing concert experience. Helen Grimes’ Fanfare glittered and shone; Oliver Knussen’s third symphony resonated with warmth and passion.

Rattle began his formal public-facing relationship with the LSO with a bold statement of intent – a programme celebrating British composers that gives the UK concert scene a shot in the arm. A bold start to a new relationship a lot of us have considerable hopes pinned on.

I can’t think of any other cultural experience where an ongoing professional relationship can be witnessed.

The opportunity to witness a developing relationship and discern the resulting change in the auditorium makes Rattle and the LSO not just a brilliant musical pairing, but one underpinned by drama.

A faultless performance would have denied us jeopardy. What we’re left with now is the concert-hall equivalent of a cliffhanger just without the peril, and the promise of an ongoing story. That’s something the classical music world desperately needs right now.

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. 

BBC Proms 2016 / 64: Berlin Philharmonic plays Mahler 7

I rarely look at programmes during a concert – they’ve long since turned into souvenir of special concerts. Programmes are history. Nowadays I find I feel adrift if I haven’t got a notebook on my lap when the conductor walks onto stage. It’s a ritual.

I thought I’d be writing notes as conscientiously as I sipped on the budget wine I had squirrelled away in my bag. I did neither tonight. There was no need.

The Berlin Philharmonic are the hot ticket. They’ve always been the hot ticket. They always will be. There are few guarantees in life; the Berlin Philharmonic is one of them. When they set foot in London, I get a hint of what the capital might have felt like – or was perceived as – during the black and white Sixties. The Berlin Phil are adept, cool, suave, and knowing. They leave their egos at the stage door and deliver on their promise.

The orchestra is one thing, the conductor who joined them tonight is the icing on the cake. Sir Simon Rattle is the real deal. He’s the guy you’re proud to know at the same time as knowing that you’re not in the slightest bit jealous of him. You don’t want to be him in any way. You just want him to carry on being him for as long as he possibly can.

There’s a picture of Rattle on the arena level at the Royal Albert Hall – twenty-something, long tight curls, and full of intensity, promise and steely intent. Seeing him on stage now – white-haired but still leading with an irresistible childlike enthusiasm – it’s difficult to account for the time that has passed.

It’s not that his rise was meteoric, or that we’re wondering where he goes next. It’s that as his time with the Berlin Phil is coming to an end, so his return to the UK feels more urgent. There’s a sense of expectation that we’ll be getting our boy back soon. I cannot wait for that.

Boulez’s Eclat was an unexpectedly accessible creation from the great composer who I’ve always feared. WHen people use the word iconoclast, I normally run a mile. The weight of expectation is immense, made worse as I get older – shouldn’t I have got this before now? What I heard was a man who seemed fascinated by the sounds that were created after the sounds the musicians created themselves.

Mahler’s 7th was the draw. His music is something I understand more and more. He somehow manages depicts life and makes sense of it at the same time. At some point I’ll probably end up examining how he does it. But for now, I’m revelling in the effect he creates. I can’t the recall the detail. I couldn’t point to a particular moment that had to be listened back to in particular, for example. But I know how I felt when I listened to it in the moment. And now I come to reflect on that experience I can’t comprehend why anyone wouldn’t want to experience that themselves.

Sir Simon Rattle appointed Music Director of LSO

Brilliant news discovered on the LSO’s Facebook feed just now. Sir Simon Rattle will take up the role of Music Director of the LSO from September 2017.

It’s fantastic news for the orchestra. It’s also news which makes 2017 seem like a terribly long way off. As a classical music lover, I’m really pleased this has happened. I’m convinced it will have a significant give the UK orchestral scene a shot in the arm in terms of PR which in turn will have positive impact on its profile in London and across the UK. That can only be a good thing.