There are certain types of music which are wedded to particular places. The cold icy blasts of Russia appear in Shostakovitch symphonies, the Malvern Hills seem to resonate to the music of Elgar and when you hear the uneven kick of the Viennese Waltz you think of…er…well, Vienna. As musicians however, we are not allowed to be quite so held to the land of our birth. Many critics will tell you that since recording/jet-travel/internet (Delete as applicable) that all orchestras sound the same. This is rubbish. They don’t, although of course when the Orchestra de Paris plays Debussy or Vienna plays Mahler it probably has a special resonance just as when the LSO plays Elgar or even Star Wars, as we have done as an encore on a couple of occasions on this tour. In the LSO, moreso than many other European orchestras, chameleon like flexibility is usually required, particularly with our history of recording film soundtracks. I suppose the secret is that although there are no longer any original members from 1904 left, I think, the orchestra never changes wholesale, but one player at a time. In its history, I would guess that at any one time, there are no more than a handful of new members in the orchestra in a season and so the ‘house style’ gradually becomes part of your DNA as a musician. In reality, the sound of every orchestra in the world has gradually evolved but always has one foot firmly in the historic sound.
I was chatting whilst having dinner with Daniel Harding last night in Macau (I know, non stop glamour) and as the names of Rattle and Abbado came up, I guess that the same can be said of conductors. I’m sure Dan won’t mind me saying that when we first worked to together when I was in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and he was the grand old age of 19, a lot of his gestures were heavily influenced by his mentors. Nowadays, as he has been showing on this tour, he is very much his own man with his own ideas of how best to carve the sound he wants from the orchestra. I’m only in the last movement of Mahler 1 which gives me plenty of time to watch him in action, and there were moments yesterday when he stopped conducting and simply nudged in entries with his shoulder or a flicker of a finger. Free from the metre of the stick, we all listened and the music was transformed. These moments of freedom are often present on tour with the repetition of repertoire which breeds a healthy familiarity. They mean music making is a joy and full of energy. Despite the fact that we are tired from constant travel, immigration queues and jetlag, last night in Macau we played Night on a Bare Mountain and Petroushka in the first half and then Mahler 1 in the second half followed by the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin as an encore. That’s a lot of notes and a lot of different countries covered this week both in the score and in real life.
As we queued this morning at Macau airport and exchanged stories of enormous wins and losses at the numerous casinos for which the place is famous, I noticed something on my twitter feed that John Suchet had been talking about on Classic FM yesterday morning. It was a list of the most musically unsophisticated places in Britain.
Daniel is from Oxford and even the most loyal Cambridge Don couldn’t say that it was an unsophisticated town, what with all those ivory towers, books and bikes. Simon Rattle is from Liverpool and that city has a well know musical heritage, but what of the players of the LSO? Let’s take our principal clarinets as a small cross section. Andrew Marriner, son of conductor, Sir Neville Marriner (currently celebrating his 90th birthday), is of proven, sophisticated musical stock and so where he was brought up is largely irrelevant. Chris Richards our other principal clarinet is from Redditch. What’s that? Yes. Redditch. If you’ve clicked on the link above, you’ll know that Redditch is officially (according to the survey) the most musically unsophisticated place in Britain. I find this rather hard to stomach as it is the birthplace of two of my favourite musicians from two of the best bands in the world John Bonham, the drummer from Led Zeppelin and Chris Richards from the London Symphony Orchestra. Let’s gloss over One Direction’s Harry Styles as I know the particular direction he’s headed. On those two musicians alone, Redditch shouldn’t be on that list even if Chris and John have used up its musical talent pool.
Yujia Wang, despite being on the cusp of global superstardom and living in America is unbelievably popular in the Far East. As I write this, she is on her third encore after playing the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto. China went wild for her after every performance and there were long queues at the halls she performed in to sign posters and recordings and posters. She even signed some posters. It helps that she wasn’t hit with the ugly stick at birth, but she can certainly play and whenever she plays out here there are pictures of her everywhere. Some people get a bit hot under the collar about her wearing her micro dresses in a classical music concert and others get hot under the collar because she wears micro dresses. I couldn’t care less what she wears because when I shut my eyes and listen, there is music, and that’s what we are all flogging ourselves around the globe for. In China, she already is a superstar and she’s one of theirs carrying on a musical tradition of spectaular pianists. He may not yet be a global superstar like Daniel and Yujia, but he is musically sophisticated. If the LSO ever do a concert in Redditch, the townsfolk should be carrying Chris through the streets and cheering. You know, all sophisticated like.
(Photo, top: the LSO clarinet section in Macau; L-R Lorenzo Iosco (bass clarinet), Andrew Marriner (Principal Clarinet), Chi-Yu Mo (E-flat clarinet), Chris Richards (Principal Clarinet)