Beware the bulls north of the border

By | January 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm | One comment | Geneva Paris & Lyon January 2014, LSO On Tour | Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s not yet ten o’clock in the morning but already we’ve discussed Bach’s early development, the concentration of influential composers born around 1685 and somehow, and I’m really not sure how, we have shifted to the subject of whether the temperature controlled LSO truck is suitable for the transportation of bull semen or if it’s just not cold enough. If that’s all too much to take in, or if the sentence is too long to hold your attention, let me put it more simply. Sir John Eliot Gardiner is back. Whilst the weather may be soggy and we still await the arrival of the cold winds from the east, the music making is certainly bracing. If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll know that I always enjoy working with John Eliot and this week is proving no exception, especially as unlike in his Beethoven performances, in the Mendelssohn and Schumann this week, he is letting me (whisper it) use a little bit of vibrato.

The orchestra can give a standard LSO version of most of the core repertoire without much fuss. If you were to put us on stage and place a Beethoven symphony on the stands and save the conductor fee, we could give a convincing performance. It may be conductorless, but it wouldn’t be rudderless as the pulse runs strongly throughout the orchestra. There are many maestri who will take this version and like a sculptor, scrape bits off, add a bit here and there and gradually change the shape of it over the rehearsal period until it resembles the image they hold in their mind. With John Eliot, it always feels like a new start; the raw materials are all there in the score, but how he brings the piece to life is quite different.

We’re playing Mendelssohn’s 3rd symphony, “The Scottish”. As we are culturally aware, and in the interest of informed performance, chairman and proud Scot, Lennox Mackenzie is sitting on the front desk of the firsts and is joined across the way by his fellow compatriot  Malcolm and Gillianne who add a celtic snap to the front desk of the viola section. If the Scottish rugby team had a front row this formidable, world cup glory would be already in the bag. Having said that, when Gillianne asked a question about bowing during rehearsal earlier in the week, John Eliot paused, looked confused and finally said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand a word of that.” The fields of Dorset are a long way from the highlands. In any case, I don’t want to bore you with too much technical detail, but the thing that strikes me is the way he asks us to phrase the music. Often in modern performance, the longer the phrase, the better; today we are being asked to phrase in shorter bursts, to articulate the music better, to add emphasis to the important points in the phrase. He seems to want a much more articulated, cleaner sound, using the phrase marks that Mendelssohn carefully places in the opening statement which reminds me of the way a great orator uses the punctuation and cadence of a well constructed sentence. As John Eliot’s music making has a firm foundation in singing, I shouldn’t really be surprised. The accents he wants from wind and brass are punchy and effective, the strings drive the rhythms in the final movement with such propulsion that it makes it easy to snap the melody out over the top, and the ebb and flow he coaxes from Chris and Dan on clarinet and bassoon before the final section is a joy. One of the few things I’m not sure everyone is a fan of is that he makes the violins and violas stand up for the entire symphony. I believe that even Maxine has had to consider slightly lower heels for this concert, but I’m sure she managed to turn that into a retail opportunity…

As I write this, those of you who follow me on twitter (@flutelicious) will know all about my love/hate relationship with my local train provider. I must have shot an albatross in a former life or something as my misfortune with rail travel is following me around Europe. After last nights concert in Geneva and an obscene amount of cheese fondue, I was looking forward to a scenic journey past lakes and rivers ending in Paris. Sadly, our train broke down thirty minutes into the journey and we had to move onto a small local train. When we reach Lyon, we have to wait for thirty five minutes before boarding another train to Paris arriving two hours late – all being well. I’m told that we may well not get a seat on the two hour journey. I think the strings will be even less inclined to stand in the concert after that! We’ll have to see what happens at the rehearsal, if we ever get there…

John Eliot thinks about Mendelssohn phrasing…and cows…probably

Later on this month in Portsmouth and my home town of Guildford, we’ll be playing more Mendelssohn and I’ll be talking to John Eliot before the concerts. We’ll be discussing the music and his very interesting book about Bach which is weighing down my bag and no doubt, his love of farming. Not only is he knowledgable, but very entertaining. So to end where we began, I can’t guarantee that we’ll end up talking about transportation of bull semen, but I can say that he will be straight to the point, sometimes abrasive and passionate about the music he loves with no trace of that other famous bull by-product.



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The Show Must Go On by Gareth Davies

One Comment

  1. Antoine Leboyer (1 year ago)

    Beautiful Mendelssohn playing and you played wonderfully the scherzo of the Midsummer Night Dream.

    Glad that you are coming regularly in Geneva and hoping to continue hearing the LSO every year.


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