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7 Oct 2019

Romeo and Juliet in a Sports Car

7 Oct

2019


Last night, Elim Chan was one of four conductors leading the Philharmonia in a celebration of 50 years of artists’ agency HarrisonParrott. Here’s what she had to say about the music, and what she enjoys about working with the Philharmonia.

I made my Philharmonia debut with this piece in 2017 – it was a cancellation and it was miraculous that I could step in. The orchestra played it so wonderfully and it opened up my relationship with them, so there is no better choice of repertoire for me to conduct them in celebrating HP’s anniversary.

The overture suggests the story of Romeo and Juliet, and lets you imagine what happens to the lovers. In less than 20 minutes you get both the angst and the passion of Shakespeare’s play. You know from the very beginning that the story is going to be dark –there’s so much anguish, even in the beautiful, yearning themes on the high instruments in the very opening. We immediately know that Romeo and Juliet may attain love, but they won’t be able to keep it.

We hear the struggle between the two families – two forces wrestling. In the middle there is the glorious melody that stays with you after hearing it just once – an intimate and passionate celebration of their love. It doesn’t last long because the struggle returns. At the end we know the lovers can’t be together on earth, but Tchaikovsky’s ending brings them together in death.



They say that conducting a great orchestra is like driving a Ferrari race car, and that’s the case with the Philharmonia. The players read every single little gesture you make. You give them the inspiration and they take it. If you work on one thing, they apply that to similar places – there’s never any struggle.

I’ve conducted the orchestra twice now and the experiences have been such a pleasure. I find I can be myself, which is rare – I can be in my own skin without needing to impress them. I can tell them how I hear the music and they just go for it. They are efficient and free at the same time, and so open – once you’re honest and show yourself to them, they come with you. They are kind, classy and fast and I felt the chemistry when I first stood in front of them.

The other three conductors have such special relationships with the orchestra, and I feel so honoured to be invited to conduct tonight, and to experience how the orchestra is with each of them. It will be my first time seeing Vladimir Ashkenazy live and I will watch the rehearsals and sneak into the audience if I can, and become a fan girl. His performances of Russian repertoire with the Philharmonia are benchmarks, so when I see him performing live, I can check that off my bucket list.


Elim Chan returns to conduct the Philharmonia on Thursday 24 October 2019 at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, performing works by Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Britten.


3 Oct 2019

Q&A with Elim Chan

3 Oct

2019


 

It is great to have you back after your debut with us in December 2017. What are your memories from that concert, and what are you looking forward to most this time round?

I am very happy to return to the Philharmonia after stepping in for a cancellation in 2017. I remember fondly the experience of that concert, when I felt this uniquely strong connection with the Orchestra on the RFH stage; the players were with me at every corner of the music, and in turn I could only deliver my best. I could not have been luckier than to have had that opportunity. Coming back in October, I look forward to reconnecting with the musicians, and with their marvellous reservoir of skills, musicality and tenacity. I know we will be able to tell the story of these pieces at a whole new level.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your musical upbringing? What advice would you have for young musicians who are interested in orchestral music?

I grew up singing in a choir and playing piano. Later on, since I also wanted to experience playing in an orchestra, I picked up the cello in my teenage years. To today’s young musicians I say: go online and listen and watch all that’s out there and go to as many orchestra and chamber concerts as you can, but nothing is better and more powerful than joining a youth orchestra. Being a part of a big group of players, being within a big sound and shaping it at the same time, is a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else. It also opens you up to all kinds of feelings and camaraderie that it is not possible to experience on your own.



 

What links the three different pieces and composers in your concert this evening?

There is a long history of friendship and working relations between British composer Benjamin Britten and Soviet artists. Britten’s active affection and connection to Russian culture began in the 1960s when he repeatedly toured the Soviet Union accompanied by his long-time partner, the tenor Peter Pears. Britten first met Shostakovich in 1960 at the Royal Festival Hall during a performance at which Rostropovich played Shostakovich’s newly completed First Cello Concerto. That was the beginning of a mutual professional admiration and a devoted friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives. Shostakovich once expressed, “What attracts me to Britten? The strength and sincerity of his talent, its surface simplicity and the intensity of its emotional effect.”

As a teenager, Britten was fascinated by Beethoven and Mahler as well as by the Russian masters Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. From Britten’s interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s songs and symphonic music, it seems that Britten identified in the Russian master an emotional bleakness, a sense of tragedy that is expressed potently when restrained. One can’t ignore these traits of inner turmoil and anxiety in Britten’s masterful Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, in which the story is partly mirrored in the moods of the sea. To round off the programme, what could be better therefore than giving the nod to Tchaikovsky with his great and uncommonly optimistic Little Russian Symphony that includes several ‘Little Russian’ (Ukrainian) songs; a work that expresses his delight at having a home away from home where he could always find warmth and refuge?

 

Which of our concerts in the London 2019/20 season would you recommend?

I personally would love to attend the Beethoven: 1808 Reconstructed concert in March 2020 when Esa-Pekka recreates Beethoven’s grand and lengthy concert in Vienna back in December 1808, when Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies and his Fourth Piano Concerto were all premiered at the same performance, together with performances of the Choral Fantasy and several other works. What an epic experience it will be!


 

See Elim Chan conduct a programme of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Britten at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall on Thursday 24 October 2019 and Leicester's De Montfort Hall on Friday 25 October 2019.




19 Sep 2019

Q&A with Elim Chan

19 Sep

2019


Conductor Elim Chan offers her thoughts on Tchaikovsky’s much-loved work, and looks forward to conducting the Philharmonia again.
 

"I made my Philharmonia debut with this piece in 2017 – it was a cancellation and it was miraculous that I could step in. The orchestra played it so wonderfully and it opened up my relationship with them, so there is no better choice of repertoire for me to conduct them in celebrating HP’s anniversary.
 

The overture suggests the story of Romeo and Juliet, and lets you imagine what happens to the lovers. In less than 20 minutes you get both the angst and the passion of Shakespeare’s play. You know from the very beginning that the story is going to be dark –there’s so much anguish, even in the beautiful, yearning themes on the high instruments in the very opening. We immediately know that Romeo and Juliet may attain love, but they won’t be able to keep it.

We hear the struggle between the two families – two forces wrestling. In the middle there is the glorious melody that stays with you after hearing it just once – an intimate and passionate celebration of their love. It doesn’t last long because the struggle returns. At the end we know the lovers can’t be together on earth, but Tchaikovsky’s ending brings them together in death.



They say that conducting a great orchestra is like driving a Ferrari race car, and that’s the case with the Philharmonia. The players read every single little gesture you make. You give them the inspiration and they take it. If you work on one thing, they apply that to similar places – there’s never any struggle.
 

I’ve conducted the orchestra twice now and the experiences have been such a pleasure. I find I can be myself, which is rare – I can be in my own skin without needing to impress them. I can tell them how I hear the music and they just go for it. They are efficient and free at the same time, and so open – once you’re honest and show yourself to them, they come with you. They are kind, classy and fast and I felt the chemistry when I first stood in front of them.
 

The other three conductors have such special relationships with the orchestra, and I feel so honoured to be invited to conduct tonight, and to experience how the orchestra is with each of them. It will be my first time seeing Vladimir Ashkenazy live and I will watch the rehearsals and sneak into the audience if I can, and become a fan girl. His performances of Russian repertoire with the Philharmonia are benchmarks, so when I see him performing live, I can check that off my bucket list.
 

I have loved HarrisonParrott since the very beginning. Jasper was at the Donatella Flick competition and after that he kept in touch and watched me over a few months. HP’s commitment was clear from the beginning in terms of what they see in me. They have been there at every single step as I’ve grown."
 

To find out more about how to book tickets for the concert on the 6 October, please visit the following link: https://www.philharmonia.co.uk/concerts/2690



20 May 2019

Q&A with Nicola Benedetti

20 May

2019


What were the key moments in your childhood that led to you wanting to be a professional violinist?

I started learning the violin aged four because I copied my big sister. She is four years older than me and I wanted to do everything that she did. The initial phase was hard but I remember being so moved by music from a very young age and was hooked. I can’t remember ever seriously considering doing anything else.
 

How old were you when you first played Bruch’s First Violin Concerto and how has your interpretation changed since then?

I first learnt the second movement when I was eight, and the third when I was nine. I’m sure I sounded quite ridiculous playing it at that age, I wasn’t good enough at all! But I totally loved it, and tried my best. I then didn’t play it again till I was 17 or thereabouts. Of course, it changes every time I play it.
 


On the day of a concert, how do you prepare? Do you have any rituals you follow?

Yes and no. I used to be very controlling over the amount of practice I did, when I washed my hands, etc. Now, I’m more relaxed. My routine is to try to be in an open state and recognise what my body and mind needs in order to be prepared for walking on stage. It’s a complicated thing, really. It’s way beyond the purely physical.
 

Have you performed with conductor Pablo Heras-Casado before?

No, and I’m really looking forward to it!
 

You’ve recently launched The Benedetti Foundation. Congratulations on its success so far. What would be your top tip for beginner violinists?

Thank you. We are in the very early stages but I am very excited about the Foundation, and to be formalising my vision and expanding my commitment to the education of young people and to supporting music teachers. My top tip for beginner violinists is to be patient and to persevere. The violin is hard and can be very frustrating, particularly in the early days, but don’t get disheartened. Do little and often on a daily basis and you will see big improvements. Also, do look at my online video series ‘With Nicky’ on YouTube for some helpful tips!
 

Which of our forthcoming concerts would you recommend?

Smetana’s The Bartered Bride at Garsington Opera.
 


Nicola Benedetti performs Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 2 June 2019.


15 May 2019

The Shock of the New

15 May

2019

Series Advisor Gavin Plumley introduces the context for the Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis series.

Light fuels memory. And I clearly remember the first time I saw the Bauhaus. It was a sunny spring day. I’d travelled to the small industrial city of Dessau from nearby Leipzig. My head should have been filled with the sights and sounds of Bach’s adopted hometown, but they were suddenly blown away by the sharp shock of the new. It was the vision of Walter Gropius’s modernist masterpiece. The glare of its glass, steel and geometry blazed in an otherwise drab suburb; “a bright object through the gloom”, Theresia Enzensberger calls it in her new novel Blueprint. It was a cathedral to modernism. And just as when I first saw that totem of the Renaissance, the Duomo in Florence, tears pricked at the corners of my eyes.



The Bauhaus in Dessau © Ian Dagnall

Back in December 1926, when the Bauhaus opened in Dessau – the second of the art school’s homes – the impact must have been even more marked. Very few of the surrounding buildings were in place; Gropius’s temple stood proud. As the international press approached, they would have heard the music of Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg. Photographers swarmed, ready for the great reveal. And the following day, a further 1,500 people arrived for the official inauguration, wandering slack-jawed through the school’s hallways and workshops, where many of the most pioneering artistic minds of a generation would come to study and create.

The history of the Bauhaus is entirely coincident with that of the Weimar Republic: both were created in the Thuringian capital of Weimar in 1919; and both came to an end in Berlin in 1933 with the advent of the Nazis. But, most importantly, the Republic and the Bauhaus were thoroughly utopian projects, tendering solutions, democratic and cultural, to the warring era they trailed.

The sense of disillusionment after the most brutal, mechanised conflict the world had ever witnessed was pervasive. Having been a willing volunteer, German poet Hugo Ball expressed his dismay in 1917 at what had unfolded. Writing ostensibly about artist and later Bauhaus teacher Wassily Kandinsky, he declaimed, “God is dead” (alluding to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche). “A world disintegrated. I am dynamite. World history splits into two parts. There is an epoch before me and an epoch after me.” And yet the era that followed was just as conflicted. In the final stages of World War I, the German population lurched into a violent revolution. The uprising may have seen in the founding of a republic and the abdication of the Kaiser, but it also resulted in a volunteer militia, supported from afar by the Social Democrats, assassinating various leading communists.



Otto Dix ‘The Match Seller’

With elections, including the first votes for and by women, and the establishment of a national assembly, some sense of reason was restored. Meeting first in the sleepy cultural centre of Weimar, parliament set out terms for a new German constitution. It was adopted in August 1919, announcing that “the German people, united in its tribes and inspired with the will to renew and strengthen its realm in liberty and justice, to serve internal and external peace, and to promote social progress, has adopted this Constitution”.

On the streets, however, there was little unity among the ‘tribes’. Turning their gaze from the trenches to the cities, artists (and former soldiers) George Grosz and Otto Dix recorded the ravages of war on society, painting limbless matchbox salesmen and generals with metal jaws. Added to the war’s physical and emotional disseverment, apparent in Alban Berg’s first opera Wozzeck (1925), there were also the lasting economic effects, with the Treaty of Versailles blaming Germany for all the loss and damage caused between 1914 and 1918. The Allies duly levied reparations that the new Republic had no chance of paying back, which similarly made attempts to reconcile the constitution’s idealism and the pessimism of daily life impossible.

The very same artists who recorded the period’s socio-political schisms also decided to step away from the hyperemotional expressionism that had characterised its art to date. Instead, Dix and Grosz, alongside conscientious objector Christian Schad, pursued a cooler, more detached style. In 1925, curator and art historian Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub branded it Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity), describing an art that expressed a “desire to treat things dispassionately, as they are, without trying to find some ideal meaning”. Similarly objective, though truly idealistic in its aims, was the Bauhaus. The school had likewise moved away from the expressionism and cultish fervour that marked its initial years in the city of Weimar towards a more rational style. Re-established in Dessau after local government machinations forced it to move and, later, again, in Berlin, the institution’s masters applied their arts-and-crafts principles to the modern age, fashioning geometric designs for everyday use, while creating photographically-inspired art.

The kind of theoretic perplexity at the core of these movements was characteristic of the age. Thomas Mann deftly communicated its dichotomies in the allegorical push-and-pull of Der Zauberberg (‘The Magic Mountain’), his literary sensation of 1925. Focussing on a naive bourgeois named Hans Castorp, who travels to an elegant sanatorium in the Alps, Mann’s novel confronts an array of possible solutions to the woes of the world. While set in the seemingly comfortable pre-war era, its concerns are manifestly those of the Weimar Republic, as people grappling for intellectual identity again faced questions of progress versus tradition, of society’s needs against the collusions of a political hierarchy.

In the midst of this maelstrom, there was an unsurprising explosion of hedonism. Fuelled by drink, sex and drugs – cocaine use was particularly prevalent among Berlin bourgeois circles – Weimar Germany became a veritable playground. Its increasingly diverse society, catalysed by unemployment and consequent mass movement, prompted an unlikely and often dangerous ethnic, political and sexual mix, becoming as much a subject for local writers such as Irmgard Keun and Alfred Döbling as it was for visitors like Christopher Isherwood.



The Bauhaus in Dessau © Nikolaj Schubert

In Weimar Germany, modernism was many-splendoured and indefinable, bridging everything from avant-gardism to the out-and-out popular. And evidence of its breadth is surely found on the lyric stage. This was, after all, the era of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s plush weepy, Die tote Stadt (‘The City’) which enjoyed simultaneous premieres in Cologne and Hamburg in 1920. The opera’s mood of eroticised, fetishized remembrance, harnessed to a clutch of bittersweet arias, proved evergreen (until the Nazis banned it). But even more popular were the era’s operettas, as Berlin stole the genre’s crown from Vienna and modish plots and ‘American’ popular songs came into play. Such trends were equally prevalent in Zeitopern (operas of the time), which eschewed escapist fantasy in favour of the contemporary. Featuring telephones, trains and factory workers, Ernst Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf (‘Funny plays’, 1927) and Max Brand’s Maschinist Hopkins (1929) maintained surface modernity while relying on established musical forms.

Kurt Weill and Paul Hindemith likewise reverted to traditional structures, albeit to subvert them. The latter, in particular, relished the rigour and rhetoric of the Baroque, using it for his musical complement to Neue Sachlichkeit. And while Weill, born in Dessau, the city of the Bauhaus, had, like Hindemith, begun writing expressionistic works, he was soon flaunting a more barbed idiom, inspired by his collaboration with playwright-cum-agitator Bertolt Brecht on works such as Die Dreigroschenoper (‘The Threepenny Opera’, 1928) and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (‘The Rise and the Fall of the City of Mahagonny’, 1930). Brecht was to pursue even more pointed forms of social criticism, while Weill readily embraced jazz and Americanisms, helping pave his way to Broadway. Conflict and contradiction abounded, even in the closest of collaborations.

And it was not just the shellac records and sheet music of Weill’s popular songs that bridged the gap between high art and the high street. That was done most ably by interwar German cinema. Film was one of few artistic disciplines to thrive due to the country’s otherwise lamentable economy: imports, including US films, were prohibitive; while German producers were able to capitalise on the effects of inflation, borrowing funds that were soon rendered null. Lavish effects, swathes of extras and technological trickery typified Weimar cinema, as it moved from vertiginous expressionism to social critique, as in the art that emulated its fluidity, such as Berg’s Lulu.

By the time Schoenberg’s former pupil died in 1935, leaving his second opera incomplete, the era’s commitment to progress – socially, artistically and politically – had become prey to a new regime. The Weimar Constitution may have sought to paper over the cracks, but the violence and crime on the streets, the enduring humiliations of a war-torn generation and the failed hopes of those who came in its wake all sat at odds with the Republic’s idealism. Exploiting the ignominy doled out to Germany and the pain of reparations, while invoking apparent past glories and future promises, the Nazi Party, founded in Munich in 1920, had brought about the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933.

Looking back, the demise may seem inevitable. But the horror of the 12-year Third Reich cannot blind us to the successes of the 14-year period that preceded it. Weimar’s greatest achievement remains its progressive thinkers – writers, artists, musicians, architects and filmmakers – many of whom found homes further afield, there rebuilding Weimar’s utopian vision. They included Walter Gropius in Harvard, Kurt Weill on Broadway and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s own Otto Klemperer in Los Angeles and in London, to say nothing of the flood of German-speaking artists in Hollywood. And although the Republic’s politics were deeply flawed, stemming from what Eric D. Weitz calls its “star-crossed birth”, the Weimar Constitution remains proof of enduring faith in democracy.

Because, for all the hopelessness of the period, it was also a time of great hope. Like the Bauhaus, the Weimar Republic offered “a bright object through the gloom”, what Gropius called “the crystal symbol of a new faith”. 100 years on, we need its light and optimism – now, more than ever.

Written by Gavin Plumley


Explore the programme for our Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis series


29 Apr 2019

Petrushka – a Listening Guide

29 Apr

2019

Stravinsky's Petrushka tells the fantastical tale of three puppets brought to life at a Shrovetide fair. Inspired by Russian legend, Stravinsky fused traditional folk songs with his own vivid musical storytelling.

 


PART 1: THE SHROVETIDE FAIR

The bustling Shrovetide Fair is evoked using a swift succession of contrasting, sometimes overlapping, ideas creating the sensation of moving between areas of the fair. Stravinsky presents us with these strongly rhythmic musical ideas, which he treats as a collage of juxtapositions rather than developing them in depth.

The piece opens with the cries of street hawkers: an undulating texture in the winds supporting a perky flute motif, answered by violins. As the orchestral texture expands, another motif of insistent repeated notes ending with a flourish leads us towards the full orchestra playing Stravinsky’s version of a folk tune, with tingling percussion and the piccolo playing its highest note. The brass announces the Master of Ceremonies; a lugubrious clarinet melody evokes an Organ Grinder. The flutes represent Dancing Girls, one of whom has a music box (the celesta, which uses a keyboard to play tinkling bells); they dance to the chirpy French tune ‘Une jambe de bois’ about a woman with a wooden leg.

A dramatic drumroll interrupts, summoning the crowd to the Magician (bassoon and contrabassoon), who plays a charming melody on his flute. The puppet theatre’s curtain ascends to reveal the Moor, the Ballerina and Petrushka, who awaken to the Magician’s flute. They perform a lively Russian Dance, also based on folk music.

 


PART 2: PETRUSHKA’S CELL

A drumroll leads us from the first tableau to the second, which begins which a violent gesture as Petrushka is kicked onstage. We see the puppet in his room, represented by the ‘Petrushka chord’ outlined by the clarinets (a combination of chords from two different keys, C major and F-sharp major). Petrushka pulls himself together to the sound of the piano, curses the Magician’s portrait (a blast from the trumpet), then, to more lyrical music in  the woodwinds, mimes his love for the Ballerina and his hatred of the Magician. The Ballerina enters but is scared off by Petrushka’s overambitious dancing display; the clarinet laughs at Petrushka as he wilts. More piano music, answered by cor anglais, builds towards an orchestral ‘curse’ at the Magician, and the mocking clarinets signal Petrushka’s collapse, the scene closing with another trumpet blast.

 


PART 3: THE MOOR’S ROOM

More drumrolls link the tableaux. In the Moor’s exotic room, he dances to a tune on clarinet and bass clarinet, then bassoons. The infatuated Ballerina dances for him to a trumpet melody; they dance a waltz (bassoon, trumpet and flute); their themes overlap. Petrushka escapes from his cell and interrupts before realising he is too weak to win; he is beaten and chased away.

 


PART 4: THE SHROVETIDE FAIR (EVENING)

Another drumroll; evening at the fair. We hear a succession of colourful dances: the Wet Nurses’ Dance (an old folk song first heard on the oboe); a pipe-playing peasant and his bear (shrill clarinets, trudging accompaniment); a merchant with two gypsies (a shimmering orchestral texture, proud string theme and vibrant dance); coachmen (heavy, repeated rhythms, joined by the nurses and their tune); masqueraders (quick flourishes, bold brass chords). A cry comes from the puppet theatre (a held trumpet note) and the Moor chases Petrushka onstage, followed by the Ballerina. The Moor stabs Petrushka, who dies (plaintive woodwind solos). A marching bassoon announces the Magician’s arrival; he picks up Petrushka’s corpse (horns) and shakes it (shivering strings). Muted trumpets evoke the ghost of Petrushka appearing and mocking the Magician – who runs away in fright.

Written by Joanna Wyld


18 Apr 2019

Q&A with Esther Yoo

18 Apr

2019


What do you enjoy the most about performing with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra?

I love the strong musical and personal connection we have built over the past years of performing together and also recording my first two albums together. I also really enjoy the fact that we’re always exploring new ideas and approaches even when we’re revisiting pieces we have already performed together. Playing with musicians who feel like family takes music making to an extra special level.

Glazunov’s Violin Concerto is not the most well know violin concerto. What drew you to perform and record this work?

This concerto was actually recommended to me by the late Maestro Lorin Maazel who was a very important mentor to me and whom I made my London concerto debut with many years back, together with the Philharmonia Orchestra. I quickly fell in love with this unique concerto, which is short in length but bursting to the brim with life, brilliance and lyricism. It’s a piece that continues to evolve with me and I appreciate the precious memories it brings back of working with Maestro Maazel.


I can see that you’re an official Champion of the music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins. Tell us a bit about why you became involved with this charity?

Mental health has always been a priority for me and I was inspired by the important work that Nordoff Robbins does of helping and healing people with music. Music and the process of creating art has helped me through many difficult times in my life and I strongly advocate all that NR are doing with music therapy, raising awareness and making music accessible to those who need it most.

Which of our forthcoming concerts would you recommend?

On 15 March 2020, Esa-Pekka Salonen is recreating the concert that Beethoven gave in Vienna in December 1808, involving four hours of music – this sounds amazing! Then of course I have to recommend my own concert on 14 May 2020, when I’ll be playing the Barber Violin Concerto as part of an all-American programme, with Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

But there are many more that look exciting too – I’d love to hear Sol Gabetta playing Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with Elim Chan conducting on 24 October, Vladimir Ashkenazy returning with Dvořák’s New World Symphony on 28 November, and Lahav Shani conducting Romeo and Juliet on 13 February.

Then, from the Philharmonia’s free Music of Today series, the 19 March concert of music by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Helena Tulve caught my eye.


16 Apr 2019

Viktoria Mullova: a look at a fascinating life…

16 Apr

2019


The story of Viktoria Mullova, her early life and defection from Soviet Russia, is the stuff of spy movies. Mullova was an exceptionally talented young violinist in Moscow, where she studied with the formidable Leonid Kogan. In 1980 she won the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition in Helsinki, Finland – a sure sign that she had a major career ahead of her. Two years later, she won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

The authorities kept a close eye on Mullova, but allowed her occasional visits to Soviet Estonia and even through the Iron Curtain to Finland. In 1983, Mullova conspired with her then boyfriend and a Finnish journalist to slip the KGB officers who were accompanying her during a concert tour in Finland. She was driven from the town of Kuusamo over the border to Sweden, where she stayed for two nights in a safe house with her boyfriend and sought political asylum in the USA. She had left her Soviet-owned Stradivarius violin in her bedroom at the Kuusamo hotel.

Mullova, who now lives in Holland Park, London, has since pursued a distinguished international career, playing concertos with orchestras throughout Europe and America and also drilling deep into Baroque and Classical music. Echoing her lunge for freedom in 1983, she has always tried to break out of the standard repertoire associated with virtuoso soloists. She is fascinated by music of the Hungarian gypsy tradition and by South American street music. She has been a frequent visitor to Brazil, including one trip deep into the rainforest where she stayed with indigenous tribes. For her third non-classical album, Stradivarius in Rio, she joined local musicians in the Brazilian capital for performances of popular songs and dances.


But Mullova still feels close to those countries in which, as a child, she fleetingly glimpsed life outside Russia. Her first  trip, under supervision, was to the Estonia of Arvo Pärt and its capital Tallinn.

“I actually wonder if I have any Baltic blood in me”, she told me in Tallinn in the summer of 2017, where she was recording music by Arvo Pärt in the presence of the composer. It was her first return to Estonia since before her defection.

The music of the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea means a great deal to Mullova. She describes the Finland of Jean Sibelius as “a country I feel very connected to” and is soon to add Distant Light – the Violin Concerto by the Latvian Pēteris Vasks – to her repertoire. “The people might seem cold and cool but underneath they are very, very emotional,” she says; “they cry easily.”

Written by Andrew Mellor.


Viktoria Mullova performs Sibelius's Violin Concerto in Canterbury and London on 9–11 May, followed by a selection of pieces, chosen by her, from Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in Leicester on 12 May.


5 Apr 2019

Herbert Blomstedt talks Beethoven and Mozart

5 Apr

2019


In a career spanning more than 60 years, Herbert Blomstedt’s irrepressible enthusiasm remains undimmed. What are the unique qualities of this most modest of conductors…?

Herbert Blomstedt was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Swedish parents who moved the family back to Gothenburg when Blomstedt was two, setting the tone for the cosmopolitan nature of his career. Blomstedt studied with Igor Markevitch in Salzburg – a city saturated in the music of its most famous resident, Mozart – and with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood (USA).

Blomstedt turned 90 in 2017, and in over six decades of music-making he has worked with the major orchestras of the world. Performances with the Philharmonia have received consistent acclaim; their Beethoven Symphony No. 7 of 2017 was described as “a full-on exuberant expression of the human spirit. Energetic and relentless from beginning to end” with “particularly careful attention to the Beethovenian extremes in dynamics… his subtle phrasing gave shape and cohesion to the whole work. The Philharmonia simply sparkled…” (Bachtrack).

Beethoven is one of the composers for whose music Blomstedt feels a particular affinity, although he has been quick to emphasise that each performance brings fresh insights. Never one to rest on his considerable laurels, he always approaches the score seeking something new. On Beethoven’s symphonies, Blomstedt has said: “I think the most striking character of Beethoven’s symphonies is the will-power – the resolute plan for every work… It’s music that has a message, but you have to work to find that message. If you just play the notes, that does not mean that you’ve got the meaning of the music.”

As for Mozart’s symphonies, Blomstedt states that they “are all interesting in their own way”, a variety enhanced by the spontaneity of live performance. Blomstedt has described the distinction between the solidity of a recording and the thrill, even the risk, of live performance: “… anything can happen during a concert. That is really what makes concerts so exciting. They are not gramophone recordings that repeat themselves every time you plug in the switch… Music is not like a painting or a lithograph; it’s something that is constantly being recreated, and therefore is so immensely alive…”

Blomstedt himself continues to revel in this process with an integrity that has become one of the hallmarks of his musicianship. His abiding principle is “to be sincere”, and, to the delight of audiences everywhere, his love of conducting remains as unquenchable as ever: “I never get tired of music.”


30 Jan 2019

12 Years To Act: Accelerating our Environmental Response

30 Jan

2019


The Philharmonia Orchestra has been accepted onto Arts Council England's environmental sustainability-focused programme, 'Accelerator', in partnership with Julie's Bicycle. In this blog post about the project Jennifer Pattison writes about what the project means for the Orchestra. 

Being a part of the Accelerator programme is undoubtedly a coup. It is a great fit for the Philharmonia as we develop plans to curate a programme dedicated to the environment, which is timely given the UN’s latest advice that we only have 12 years left before climate change catastrophe is inevitable and irreversible. And it’s a comfortable match for an Orchestra led by an environmental champion in Esa-Pekka Salonen who co-founded the Baltic Sea Festival in order to raise awareness of the devastating impact of environmental degradation.

But three months into the programme, Accelerator is already forcing us to ask some difficult questions about the extent to which our mission, which drives our creative output, can complement an environmental focus; and about the operational realities of enabling that work. Our sector as a whole is grappling with complex issues that only serve to divert us away from facing up to our environmental responsibilities:

Prioritisation
When Brexit threatens to undermine the financial and operational viability of our touring model; when costs inflate annually and our Arts Council England investment continues to decline in real terms; when the increasingly litigious environment in which we operate absorbs increasing amounts of time that would otherwise have been spent furthering our mission; and when we are focused on increased financial and organisational resilience and driving efficiencies, how can conversations around reducing our carbon footprint get a look-in?

Financial Targeting
And within the necessarily rigorous application of cost control, efficiency savings and financial targeting, there is a fundamental tension between making environmentally-friendly choices, and choosing the cheapest option. How can we progress purchasing FSC-certified paper, and moving to environmentally-friendly suppliers, when there’s an assumption that the net effect on the bottom line will be increased costs? How can we make the case for reducing our use of resources and switching over to carbon-friendly solutions to achieve a cost-neutral outcome, when the financial calculations necessary to inform decisions won’t be undertaken by colleagues whose priorities lie elsewhere? 

Carbon footprint
And – the elephant in the room – orchestras that tour internationally have a weighty carbon footprint. Transporting 80 musicians, instruments and support staff around the world regularly is not an environmentally-friendly activity, nor is driving a truck loaded with instruments around the UK throughout the year a happy bedfellow of initiatives that encourage us to choose public transport over the road. We are mission-led, and our mission is to create thrilling experiences in music, supported by a vision that we will have a transformative impact upon the widest possible audience. This vision, and the economic reality in which we operate, drives the carbon-heavy touring model, as does our steadfast focus on maintaining the highest-quality orchestra. We are as strong artistically as the calibre of orchestral musicians we retain, and a diary with reduced touring brings with it the risk of losing the players that collectively enable us to maintain our position as one of the world’s great orchestras.

And whilst we wrestle with these intractable issues, we sleepwalk towards environmental disaster. Whilst we champion for the rights of communities experiencing disadvantage to access the arts, devising audience development and engagement projects that move the culturally-disengaged to becoming active arts participants and consumers, we are complicit in not doing everything we can to halt environmental calamity that will hit those same disadvantaged communities hardest and first.

How can the Accelerator programme help?
Accelerator is already encouraging the small numbers of Philharmonia staff that have come into contact with it to find solutions to these issues, driven by the creation of an artistic response to climate change. The programme’s training residential in Gloucester encouraged us to carve out the time to consider how best we can use art to hold a mirror up to nature, highlighting the ability of orchestral music to be a vessel for the human experience, the enormity of nature, and human’s connection with the natural world. We have the opportunity to perform epic, transformative music on some of the most celebrated concert platforms in the UK. We’re going to challenge emerging composers to write music that speaks to these issues, and to devise immersive, mixed reality experiences that deepen our audience’s connection with the music and with environmental degradation. We will create participatory work with the community groups and participants we partner with across England that uses music to add depth to how respond to these issues.

But it is clear that however strong our artistic response is, it won’t be authentic if we’re operating in an environment that fails to prioritise reducing our carbon footprint and making environmentally-responsible choices. Thanks to Accelerator, what could have been an unsuccessful campaign to identify budget, amidst so many competing pressures, to engage experts in their field to educate Philharmonia staff and musicians about the environmental choices we should be making, is now guaranteed expert training. We will use the next phase of the Accelerator support package, delivered by Julie’s Bicycle, to educate and inspire staff and players on environmental issues and catalyse more creative thinking about our artistic contribution. Accelerator will help us navigate a course through the issues we’ve identified, and to ensure that our creative response is authentic, and devised from the most informed position.   

How do we ultimately address the conflict between the complex issues identified at the beginning of this piece and our moral obligation to become more environmentally responsible? Through embedding environmental consideration into the decisions we take, the suppliers we use, the products we buy, the work we produce, and the engagement activities we undertake. We have to move to a position whereby it’s not a choice; it’s a given.

Jennifer has worked for the Philharmonia in various roles since 2007, raising funds and helping take forward strategic initiatives.


20 Jun 2018

Garsington Opera: Falstaff

20 Jun

2018


From 16 June until 22 July 2018, the Philharmonia Orchestra returned to its newest residency at Garsington Opera in Wormsley, presenting a new production of Verdi's final opera, Falstaff, to critical acclaim.


"In the pit the Philharmonia Orchestra is in electrifying form under Richard Farnes...You will rarely hear the intricate ensembles delivered with such rapport between pit and stage, nor the drama paced so effectively, nor orchestral detail spring out so vividly."

★★★★★ Richard Morrison, The Times



"The quicksilver intricacy of the score here brightly rendered by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Richard Farnes’s baton."

★★★★★ Michael Church, The Independent


"Garsington is lucky to have the Philharmonia Orchestra in the pit and Richard Farnes conducts with vigour. As befits the 80-year-old Verdi, the performance sprinted to the end with a teenager’s energy."

★★★★☆ Richard Fairman, Financial Times



"Exceptional accuracy from the Philharmonia Orchestra."

★★★★☆ Charlotte Valori, Bachtrack


"Richard Farnes and the Philharmonia Orchestra treated Garsington`s perspex theatre to a regal interpretation of Verdi`s last opera. The plush sounds emanating from the pit felt like a gift for being good, while as ever with this conductor the interpretation never wavered from the ideal. Farnes made light of the score`s intricacies and projected its energy with a tireless sense of joy."

★★★★☆ Mark Valencia, What`s On Stage


5 Jun 2018

The Wind in the Willows

5 Jun

2018


In June, we present a new musical adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's timeless classic The Wind in the Willows, by composer and member of our cello section, Richard Birchall. Starring narrator Simon Callow, get to know our friends Ratty, Mole, wise old Mr Badger and, of course, the irrepressible Toad of Toad Hall, in our two afternoon performances on Sunday 17 June at Kings Place - perfect for a family day out (suitable for ages 5+)

In this blog post, Richard Birchall takes you behind the scenes into the world of a composer, and reveals how The Wind in the Willows came to life.

Music has always been a powerful storyteller, and composers throughout history have found inspiration in tales old and new - either preserving the text (as in opera & song) or purely as descriptive, 'programmatic' music. But the combination of spoken text with illustrative music is surprisingly underused. Prokofiev's Peter & The Wolf is the obvious masterly example; also Poulenc's Babar The Elephant and a handful of more recent works, but the list is relatively thin given the format's popularity with listeners. As a composer, and a lover of both words and music, I found the idea of partnering fresh music to a classic story quite irresistible.



Richard at a Philharmonia rehearsal © Camilla Greenwell

Irresistible, but not without its challenges! The choice of story is of course very important; The Wind in the Willows has the remarkable quality that it retains a genuine appeal for all age-groups, and it features a selection of unforgettable animal characters who lend themselves beautifully to musical description. (As in Peter & The Wolf, each character has its own identifiable theme.) The book itself is of course far too long, so one of the hardest parts was to reduce the story coherently to a manageable size, and to maintain a satisfying balance between the amounts of text and music. The music itself plays different roles though the piece: sometimes taking a supportive role, as the story continues across it; sometimes taking over the narrative. For example the fourth movement, The Wild Wood, is a purely musical description and replaces the text entirely.



Clip of the original eight-cello version of The Wind in the Willows

Once it was clear in my head how the structure of the piece would work, and how much music was required and where, there was the small matter of writing it all... but despite the hard graft it was really good fun! I feel I got to know all those characters - Ratty, Mole, Toad, Badger, the weasels and everyone - and spent a huge amount of happy time with them (even if we argued occasionally.) The Wind in the Willows was originally written for the unusual ensemble of eight cellos and performed by the octet Cellophony (as a partner piece to Alice in Wonderland, which I had written for them the previous year); the Philharmonia's performances at Kings Place on June 17th will be the premiere of this new orchestral version. It's a real privilege to have my music played by such a wonderful orchestra - though there is nothing more daunting than putting my music in front of my colleagues and friends! - and also a joy to work again with the incomparable Simon Callow, for whom the piece was originally written.



Richard's original sketches for The Wind in the Willows

My aim has been to write in a contemporary but accessible musical style, to reflect the truly universal appeal of the story. It was enormous fun to write, and I very much hope it will prove enjoyable and engaging for performers and listeners alike.

 

© Richard Birchall 2018

Get to know Richard and his work - read his player profile here.


2 May 2018

Philharmonia Audience Vote 2018

2 May

2018


For the first time, the Philharmonia Orchestra invites you, the audience, to vote for the music you’d like to hear launch our 18/19 residency seasons in Bedford, Canterbury and Leicester this autumn. Explore the ten works on offer below, and vote for your preferred work here.

Voting closes Friday 5 October. The winner will be announced on the night.​

 

BEETHOVEN Overture, Coriolan (9 mins)

A regular go-to for opening concerts, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture will be well known to many audiences, but how many will know the play on which it is based?  The story of a rebel Roman General invading Rome who is then persuaded to relent by his mother - only to meet his ultimate demise, possibly at his own hands.  Heard in this context, the drama of the music is enhanced, with the final notes dying away into a tragic silence.

Last performed: December 2012 (Bedford & Leicester: David Afkham, conductor) (not previously performed by the Philharmonia in Canterbury)

Bernstein’s recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, at times wielding his baton like a sword, captures all the drama:



 

BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture (10 mins)

An ever-popular overture by one of the 19 century’s great orchestral masters.  However, this is a work the Philharmonia hasn’t performed in residencies in Leicester, Canterbury or Bedford since November 2000.  Perhaps we’ve been worried about encouraging uncouth behaviour, given all the student drinking songs which Brahms wove into the music – a humorous response to the request for a work to mark the awarding of an honorary doctorate from the University of Breslau.

Last performed: November 2010 (Christopher Warren-Green, conductor)

Sir George Solti and the Chicago Symphony give a typically muscular performance of the overture, led from the front by the renowned Chicago brass:



 

JENNIFER HIGDON Loco (8 mins)

American composer Jennifer Higdon is undeservedly little-known on this side of the Atlantic. A two-time Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, she is one of the most regularly-performed living composers in North America. This short work, Loco, written for the Ravinia Festival near Chicago, celebrates the train that famously interrupts concerts at the outdoor venue. Enjoy a piece of mechanical excitement that builds to a thrilling climax and exercises every muscle of the orchestra. 

Not previously performed by the Philharmonia

Hear the piece here.



It’s also worth listening to her most famous and frequently performed work, Blue Cathedral.

 

HANNAH KENDALL Baptistry (5 mins)

A work which lives and breathes through the Philharmonia - as we gave its world premiere in Newbury on 12 May. Co-comissioned by us, Newbury and Three Choirs Festivals from fast-rising composer Hannah Kendall, this summer we bring its jazz-inspired brass sounds to Hereford and The Virtual Orchestra's Philharmonia Orchestra: Live! concert in Bedford. Vote for it, and discover the sound of the 21st century.

Last performed: May 2018 (Edward Gardner, conductor)

Listen to Kendall introduce her piece and the touching inspiration behind it in our film:


Composer Hannah Kendall On Her New Piece, Baptistry from Philharmonia Orchestra on Vimeo.


 

MENDELSSOHN Overture in C Major (10 mins)

An overture right out of the Classical tradition - heroic melodies, warm woodwind and darting strings. Fanny Mendelssohn was the older sister to the better-known Felix but had an equally prolific and accomplished output of compositions. Such was the expectation of composers in the 19th century, however, that she often published works under her brother’s name – and this overture is one of the works which has been subsequently reattributed to Fanny.

Not previously performed by the Philharmonia

It is an upbeat and energetic work that shows highly accomplished orchestral writing and a keen understanding of how to show off each section of the orchestra (listen out for the undulating clarinet lines, bold horn calls and athletic string writing):



 

MOZART Overture, The Marriage of Figaro (5 mins)

If Mozart were alive now, he’d be one of those infuriatingly capable people that we all love to hate – able to pull off works of genius giving them seemingly little-to-no thought.  This overture is a case in point, composed a matter of hours before the premiere of the opera and yet speaking with all the clarity and beauty that defines Mozart’s music.

Last performed March 2011 (Bedford: Susanna Mälkki, conductor) (not previously performed in Canterbury and Leicester)

Masterful conducting from one of the 20th-century greats, Claudio Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic:



 

ARVO PÄRT Silhouette (7 mins)

Pärt wrote this work in 2009 for Philharmonia regular and Estonian compatriot, Paavo Järvi, to mark the beginning of his tenure as Music Director at the Orchestre de Paris.  In doing so, he took inspiration from Paris’s most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, reflecting “the transparency of the construction” in his music.  It is a piece which seems to expand beyond its seven minutes, at times feeling static and at times propelled forward by a cacophonous and unhinged waltz.  A great piece that deserves to become a staple of orchestral repertoire.

Not previously performed by the Philharmonia

Järvi and the Orchestre de Paris, for whom the work was written, perform it here:



 

SMYTH Overture, The Wreckers (10 mins)

Smyth’s third opera, written in 1906, is a tale of coastal misdemeanour and illicit love. The overture launches us straight into this seafaring world with its swashbuckling melodies and tempestuous orchestration.  The main theme is one you’ll go away humming for days afterwards.

Not previously performed by the Philharmonia

A fine performance here by the Scottish National Orchestra:



 

J STRAUSS Die Fledermaus (8 mins)

Why bother staying for the rest of the opera if the overture gives you all the tunes?  It’s a question that would be particularly pertinent with Strauss’s first operetta, for which his Overture has certainly gained more currency than the theatrical work.  It is packed full of wonderful Viennese tunes that can’t help but make you sway in your seat.

Last performed: December 2006 (Leicester: David Parry, conductor) (not previously performed in Canterbury and Bedford)

Carlos Kleiber conducting the work with great enthusiasm back in 1970:



If you’re a Tom & Jerry fan you can also hear bit of this overture, cleverly integrated into their appearance at the Hollywood Bowl): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpAjbaNBPqA 

 

BOULANGER D’un Matin de Printemps (5 mins)

A particular favourite of our season-opening conductor, Clemens Schuldt, this is a work of lush French harmony and whimsical bird song. The orchestral version is, in fact, a transcription of an earlier chamber work and is remarkably mature for someone who was still only 24.  Alas, it also marks one of the last compositions she was to complete, as her life was tragically cut short by Crohn’s disease. One can only speculate of what glorious music we might have, had she lived longer.

Not previously performed by the Philharmonia

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra & Yan Pascal Tortelier perform the work here:



29 Jun 2017

Reaction: Pélleas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera 2017

29 Jun

2017


Andrea Carroll as Mélisande, credit Clive Barda

This June the Philharmonia made its Garsington Opera debut in a new production of Debussy's Pélleas et Mélisande. Here are some of the reactions from across the music world:


"The Philharmonia`s playing is glorious"

Tim Ashley, The Guardian



Andrea Carroll as Mélisande and Paul Gay as Golaud, credit Clive Barda


"Under Jac van Steen’s baton the Philharmonia created exquisite soundscapes in the orchestral interludes and punctuated the vocal lines adroitly"

Claire Seymour, Opera Today



"Rarely has this extraordinary score revealed such exquisite beauty and yet equally hit home with such devastating power"

George Hall, The Stage



Andrea Carroll as Mélisande and Jonathan McGovern as Pélleas, credit Clive Barda


"Even those far from being ‘Pelléastes’ would relish Jac van Steen’s direction of the Philharmonia Orchestra"

Melanie Eskenazi, Music OMH


26 May 2017

Discover the MMSF Instrumental Fellowship Programme

26 May

2017


The Martin Musical Scholarship Fund, administered by the Philharmonia Orchestra, has given invaluable support to countless young musicians since 1968.​ Ahead of the Young Artist Showcase Recital given by recipients of the Philharmonia MMSF String Fellowships on 1 June, cellist Yaroslava Trofymchuk describes her time spent as a member of the programme. 

Experience is one of the fundamental ways we learn. One can study the theory of how things work but nothing compares to the knowledge gained through a practical approach. This principle holds true for music just as much as in other aspects of life.

I feel incredibly privileged to have this opportunity to work with such an orchestra as the Philharmonia as part of my Fellowship scheme. There are so many things that you don’t learn at college and that are not written in books, things that you pick up just from being part of the ensemble - each orchestra has a different ‘set of rules’: a certain way of playing, of moving, even turning pages in a right way. As a result, with some groups you can feel restricted, worrying about following the rules rather than being free to enjoy the music.

What I find incredible about the Philharmonia Orchestra is that I don’t feel like this. It somehow works so naturally and all the energies from the different musicians flourish organically into a unique music making experience. As I am not currently a full-time member of an orchestra, it’s wonderful that I’m able to feel so comfortable here, playing side-by-side with such excellent musicians – I’m immensely grateful for all their support and for making me feel so welcome!

While the experience of being part of such an organisation is priceless, the Fellowship programme, in fact, goes even further. All of the Fellows have wonderful mentors from the orchestra and receive regular coaching sessions with them, with an emphasis on orchestral repertoire. This has been one of the most fascinating aspects of the programme, as it has given us the chance to gain in-depth knowledge on orchestral music, beyond the more soloist-oriented focus of typical instrumental teaching. We even had the chance to perform in a mock audition! It gave us both insights into the professional audition process at an orchestra, as well as giving us the chance to play through our audition pieces with immediate feedback from the panel.



As part of our Fellowship we perform in some fantastic recital opportunities as well as in chamber concerts. I’m really looking forward to our next performance, at the Royal Festival Hall, where we’ll be playing works by Kodály and Janáček - I’d like to give an introduction to one of my favourite works in the programme, 9 Epigrams by Zoltán Kodály. Originally written in 1954 for two voices (soprano and alto) and a piano, the composer wrote in the score that it could be performed on string or wind instruments, transposed an octave down or up and even performed in a different order, giving us lots of freedom to create our own interpretation of the music.

We transcribed seven of the Epigrams for cello and double bass with a piano and slightly changed the order, placing the lively fifth movement as an interlude between other movements.

Hazaszeretet (Love of my country)
Altató (Lullaby)
Tavasz (Spring)
Gyöngyvirág (Lily of the Valley)
Felho (Cloud)
Tavasz (Spring)
Bánat (Sadness)
Nyár elé (Approaching Summer)
Tavasz (Spring)

The rather unusual register of the lower instruments brings something very earthy and human into the sound. Each movement is about 1 minute long and has its name-character. In a very impressionistic manner the music draws pictures from someone’s very simple life in the countryside, with its dreams, love and sadness.  
 


31 Mar 2017

Principal Guest Conductors: Reaction

31 Mar

2017

Yesterday we announced our two new Principal Guest Conductors: Jakub Hrůša and Santtu-Matias Rouvali. Here is some of the reaction we received from across the music world:
 







 

Classic FM kindly made a splash, featuring Hrusa and Rouvali in last night's #FullWorksConcert:



 

Finnish publications picked up the news, and Finnish Music Quarterly published a feature on Santtu-Matias Rouvali:




30 Mar 2017

Meet Jakub Hrůša

30 Mar

2017


 

The Philharmonia Orchestra has appointed two internationally acclaimed conductors, Jakub Hrůša and Santtu-Matias Rouvali, as Principal Guest Conductors.

In this film, meet Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, a regular guest conductor with the Philharmonia since 2011 and now part of our new-look artistic team.

Hrůša and Rouvali take up their roles at the beginning of the 2017/18 Season. Both artists will conduct several concerts a year – and contribute to the programming for the Orchestra’s major series – in the Philharmonia’s London Season at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, as well as in concerts across the Orchestra’s UK programme and internationally.

Hrůša (35), hailed in a recent Arts Desk profile as “a leading light among the younger generation of conductors”, has a wide-ranging repertoire, with the music of Central Europe a particular focus. He describes the Philharmonia as "one of my absolutely favourite musical ensembles worldwide. Every single concert we have experienced together since my debut in 2011 has been special in all aspects – the programming, the atmosphere and, most of all, the quality of the music-making." 

He Continues: "I feel truly honoured that I can become a member of this remarkable artistic institution under the inspiring leadership of Esa-Pekka Salonen. To become Principal Guest Conductor and to be in regular touch with the Philharmonia Orchestra’s musicians, and the whole team around, as well as with its public, is definitely one of my dreams come true.”

Jakub Hrůša next conducts the Philharmonia on 6 and 7 April, in London and Basingstoke. See details of all his concerts with the Philharmonia here


30 Mar 2017

Introducing Santtu-Matias Rouvali

30 Mar

2017


 

The Philharmonia Orchestra has appointed two internationally acclaimed conductors, Santtu-Matias Rouvali and Jakub Hrůša, as Principal Guest Conductors.

In this film we introduce Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, whom we met during a trip to Finland in February, and who gives us his thoughts on joining the Philharmonia as Principal Guest Conductor.

Hrůša and Rouvali take up their roles at the beginning of the 2017/18 Season. Both artists will conduct several concerts a year – and contribute to the programming for the Orchestra’s major series – in the Philharmonia’s London Season at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, as well as in concerts across the Orchestra’s UK programme and internationally.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali (31), is one of the most exciting young conductors working in the world today. He has conducted the Philharmonia in concerts across its UK residencies. In his debut with the Philharmonia at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall in January 2016, Rouvali conducted the Second Symphony of his Finnish compatriot, Sibelius, alongside Rolf Martinsson’s Trumpet Concerto, with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist. “He is the real thing: music unmistakably flows from him,” wrote The Sunday Times.  
 
Rouvali describes the Philharmonia as "a perfectly-shaped orchestra. Its players can pick up any music, are always prepared and technically very skilful. There are so few orchestras around the world who can get close to that. Now I can conduct them: what more could I wish for?"  

He is also looking forward to being a part of the Philharmonia's new-look artistic team: "To be in London with Esa-Pekka Salonen as Principal Conductor is something I can’t wait for. He is a very rich-minded artist, with lots of ideas, and I want to be a part of that. I am looking forward to many future adventures with the Philharmonia.”

Rouvali conducts the Philharmonia in a sold-out Sunday matinee on Sunday 23 April 2017. Following a pre-concert talk in which he speaks to the Philharmonia’s Principal Trumpet, Alistair Mackie, Rouvali conducts The Planets and Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Alban Gerhardt the soloist. Looking ahead to 2017/18, Rouvali conducts Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on 5 October 2017.


30 Aug 2016

Universal Notes

30 Aug

2016


Bangalore, India, December 2015. A blog by Digital Producer, Marina Vidor.  

Things are not going according to plan. Catastrophic flooding in Chennai forced the change of our destination at the last minute to Bangalore. We’re in a beautiful hotel that has also suffered minor flooding and the conference room they promised us isn’t available. All 10 of us have to pile into a hotel room.

They have moved the king-sized bed out. I’m not sure how they did this, but it’s done. I have just about managed to set up two cameras and some mics without tripping over anyone. We have all left our shoes, bags and other belongings in the small corridor. The elegant Jayanthi Kumaresh, unfazed, has settled comfortably on the floor and is tuning her elaborate stringed instrument, the saraswati veena, while her pupil sits beside her attentively, ready in case she needs anything. Jayanthi is dressed in a stunning sari, the colour of plum, garnet and strawberry, alternating with gold thread that shines. We all group around her in a semi-circle, and so another workshop begins. The crowded, unusual surroundings melt away as the music starts. Everyone plays for each other and Jayanthi teaches the group a composition she and her husband, the violinist, Kumaresh, have written. The tune gets passed around and improvised upon, the musicians becoming more and more fluid on each turn.

I’m here to document (as an equipment-laden fly-on-the-wall) a unique trip for our musicians, a crash course in Indian classical music. Over eight days, Philharmonia members Samantha (Sam) Reagan (2nd Violin) and Samuel (Sam) Burstin (Viola), along with cellist Matthew Barley and composer Fraser Trainer will take part in a series of workshops with a dozen of India’s great classical musicians. We’ll meet flutists, vocalists, percussionists and players of a vast array of stringed instruments.

Conversation ebbs and flows naturally as the session with Jayanthi wears on. Matthew asks her if she ever gets tired when playing long pieces often at a very quick tempo. Tentatively she replies, “Yes… I do,” and she laughs. “That’s the spiritual angle,” she continues, and describes that when she is playing she is actually breathing at a different, slower rate, almost as if she were meditating. It’s a technique she learned so young that she doesn’t remember when it became second nature. “You ask me if my hand hurts. In that statement we made clear that my hand is not me. So my hand may get hurt, but I shouldn’t. Now what is ‘I?’ It’s not my hand, it’s not my body. My mind tells me my hand hurts, it’s distracting me away from the music. But I shouldn’t get distracted, so my mind is not me. And my body is not me. So then what is ‘me?’ That is the supreme consciousness, which is the breath. And that is why we breath slowly when performing, so that supreme consciousness makes sure that it’s all fine.” Discussions like this continue into the night over dinner.

The Philharmonia has partnered with Darbar, the UK’s premier festival of Indian classical music, to make this extraordinary project happen, with funding from Arts Council England and the British Council as part of their Reimagine India fund. Darbar’s director, Sandeep Virdee, is leading our tour of the finest Indian classical music can offer, with stops in Bangalore and Mumbai. Our musicians will learn about the Carnatic tradition from South India and the Hindustani from North India and learn how pieces are constructed and improvised. It will be a lot to absorb and probably quite overwhelming, but this is also a huge privilege and everyone knows it.

The big struggle is of course improvisation. Western classical musicians are not usually encouraged to improvise during their studies, which is why many find it difficult and even terrifying to try it. Sam and Sam have come on board because they want to challenge themselves to work outside their normal comfort zone of the daily orchestra rehearsal and concert. They’re highly experienced musicians, but neither has pushed themselves this way before, especially not in front of a steady stream of virtuosic musicians from a tradition where improvisation is central. Matthew Barley, a cello soloist who has worked quite a bit in India and well beyond the normal remit of Western classical music, will help our musicians navigate this new path, sharing his knowledge and tips and acting as a bridge between the two traditions. Composer Fraser Trainer, who has worked closely with Matthew for years, will gather material on the trip, eventually putting together a piece that will be premiered at the 2016 Darbar Festival in September at Southbank Centre. They are hoping to create a new style of music that doesn’t compromise the strengths of Western and Indian classical music. It’s a goal to move away from jam sessions and fusion styles and really push to create something fresh and meaningful. I admire this courage and I feel privileged to be on this journey with such an ambitious team.


The big struggle is of course improvisation. Western classical musicians are not usually encouraged to improvise during their studies, which is why many find it difficult and even terrifying to try it.


30 August 2016

As we approach the Darbar Festival, which our Universal Notes ensemble will open in a few weeks, I relish looking back to our trip to India. The colours, traffic, noise, food, music and amazing musicians we met stand out vividly in my memory and are being brought back to life as I trawl through hours of footage. (Keep your eyes peeled for a short film on our trip coming out in early September.) As I watch, it’s clear that everyone understands each other on a deep, musical level, but there is also a real appreciation among the group that they come from distinct musical worlds and traditions. I see furrowed brows as our musicians struggle to remember a melody they just learned, and laughs of surprise and relief when a group improvisation comes together beautifully as people start finding their musical voice. In one session sitar player Niladri Kumar nods in approval as Sam Burstin plays a Bach extract on his viola, deeply moved. Everyone gets it, and they are working hard to meet somewhere in the middle, to find those universal notes.

For the final performance we have added two more Philharmonia musicians: Michael Fuller, bass, and Jennifer McLaren, clarinet. Coming over from India for more workshops ahead of the concert are three musicians we met back in December: Rakesh Chaurasia, bansuri, Niladri Kumar, sitar, and Jayanthi Kumaresh, saraswati veena. Workshops in London ahead of the concert will bring this new piece together. We’re all excited to see how the final piece will emerge and hope you will join us on 16 September at Darbar.

Universal Notes, Friday 16 September 2016, 6.30pm, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London. http://www.philharmonia.co.uk/concerts/1632

Marina Vidor is the Digital Producer for the Philharmonia Orchestra. She looks after the Orchestra’s prolific film programme. Watch more on our YouTube channel, and subscribe for the latest films: https://www.youtube.com/user/PhilharmoniaLondon