The Beast from the East has arrived from Russia and brought with it a chill wind blowing through LSO towers, although after the initial drop in temperature, it has now settled into a distinctly unseasonal, damp, grey blanket. The day before we were due to fly out to Luxembourg, freezing Siberian fog caused numerous plane cancellations and, despite not being there myself, I could feel the pre Christmas tension rise in the Concerts Department as alternative travel arrangements were made for the predicted travel chaos that always ensues in Britain whenever we have weather. For a country obsessed with discussing the variable weather patterns in everyday conversation, we are incredibly inept at dealing with it. The irony is that the climate is so invariable in global terms, most people reading this around the world will wonder what all the fuss is about. Well the answer is, is that we all love to have a good old moan.
We were all ready to have a good old moan about how rubbish the Olympics were when they came to London this year. In the end they were deemed a huge success. Fortunately this gave us all the opportunity to moan about the people who had moaned in the first place; we moaned about how they always moan about how things aren’t what they used to be and used to be better before sliced bread (officially the last great invention) and how people used to not moan and just grin and bear it… Oh yes, we never miss an opportunity. Personally, I’m a glass half full kind of guy, especially after a Szymanowski symphony, where my glass is repeatedly half full.
The arrival in London of the cold snap, marks the final stages of our exploration of Brahms and Szymanowksi. I’m not sure whether we have discovered anything we didn’t know in the Brahms section of the exploration, but as far as Szymanowski is concerned, it has been a real eye opener. If you want to explore further, you can download the app here
where you can watch films which have been made during the season as well as numerous articles on the composer and our experience, including some of my drivel.
Last time we were in Luxembourg we performed the first two symphonies and on this return, we are playing the 3rd and 4th although not necessarily in the right order. The first concert gave us all the opportunity to hear not one but two top class soloists. After his Artist Portrait series at the Barbican, it was nice to hear Leonidas Kavakos again; if you heard his Sibelius last week in London, you’ll know just what a treat it is for us players as well as the audience. Szymanowksi’s second concerto is a very different affair to the better known first . What is interesting is that the first is brilliantly orchestrated with sparkling details and textures which despite threatening to, never overwhelm the soloist. The second however is much more problematic. There are huge tutti passages where the orchestra plays multiple harmonic and rhythmic layers which build to massive textures. This is fine when the soloist takes a well earned break, but there are many times when he is playing that despite our best efforts, he simply cannot be heard. Although in the score we are asked to play forte, we barely get above a healthy piano and even then the violin is in danger of being swamped. Even a player with the extraordinary ability of Kavakos has trouble cutting through the textures at times and I can’t help thinking that this has something to do with the concerto not being as popular as his earlier effort.
The fourth symphony is, in terms of development in his writing yet another shift in style for Szymanowski. The third symphony is a one movement, eastern influenced piece. The fourth is in three movements and is really a piano concerto. Although he calls it Symphony Concertante, the piano, at the front, especially played by our second soloist, Denis Matsuev dominates the piece. Szymanowski wrote it so that he could perform the part himself. Funnily enough, there are moments where the piano is in danger of being swamped by the orchestration and sheer numbers of ideas that come flying out from the the orchestra, however with the muscular Matsuev on the keys at least, this isn’t the case. Like a traditional concerto, it is in three movements and has some beautiful moments, particularly in the second where solo instruments are give long winding melodies so meticulous in their rhythmic detail that the players give the impression of improvising. If you want to hear it and see it and you don’t live in Paris or London, the concert is being broadcast live on Mezzo TV online on Thursday night.
The second concert in Luxembourg saw us being joined by the London Symphony Chorus under their new director Simon Halsey who seems to have a never ending supply of red ties. I know that the choir were delighted when he was appointed, and it was quite clear from the first rehearsal last week that he has given them a new found confidence and they seem to be singing with a renewed skip in their step. Unfortunately this also gave them the edge at the end of the concert. We were all staying in the same hotel which is opposite the hall and nowhere near the restaurants of the centre, this means only one thing – chaos in the hotel bar after the concert. We had anticipated this and so Chi ran across the four lane highway to get a prime position. I was pretty quick myself and we hoped that the chorus wouldn’t realise that they would need to be speedy to get fed and watered this side of Christmas. Unfortunately, with their renewed vigour they were extremely quick and as I waited to be served, I saw a steady procession of slower orchestra and choir members who had foolishly changed from their concert clothing, walk into the bar to be met with a wall of wallet waving bar huggers. Their faces crumpled from joy to despair in a second, much like when a conductor announces that you’re doing all the repeats in Beethoven 9. Thank heavens for Chi, there was a beer already on its way from Chris in prime position at the bar and a chair waiting for me. As I took my first sip of beer, I nodded sage like to a chorus member across the room who had been similarly swift and he nodded back knowingly. We were the victors on this occasion.
The beast from the east may be gradually turning into a damp disappointment, but I’m more worried about Simon Halsey, he’s obviously dangerous.
Paris tonight. I’m wearing trainers.