Friday, 25 September 2009

The Joys of Music

I've been to two concerts in two days this week: the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at The Barbican Centre, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Southbank Centre.

As a parent and keen supporter of the LSSO I have to record my admiration again for this wonderful enterprise. To see a hundred or so young people totally dedicated to the ultimate team activity is truly inspiring. Rossini's 'William Tell Overture' requires both great sensitivity in its quiet opening for the cellos, and tremendous discipline in its wild galop and the LSSO gave both. Joined by Matthew Trusler, the soloist in that perenial favourite Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, the orchestra was inspired by his virtuosity. After the interval there were two heavyweight works that taxed the orchestra to the limit: Richard Strauss's 'Till Eulenspiegel', and Ravel's 'La Valse', both played with great commitment. I'm sure the Chicago Symphony might have played more accurately, but the LSSO brought an excitement to the music that only comes with youthful enthusiasm. We were treated to a wonderfully suave arrangement of The Girl from Ipamena as an encore.

How lucky we are in London to be able to hear the best orchestras in the world. I remember some 30 years ago queuing for tickets to hear the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan, and yesterday I was able to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink. Using reduced numbers they opened with Haydn's 'Clock' Symphony. Haydn's music is so refreshingly cheerful and imaginative and the orchestra played it with clock-like precision and playfulness. The 2nd work was Bruckner's Seventh Symphony. I remember hearing this for the first time at the Royal Festival Hall when I was the same age as my daughter who came with me yesterday, and it made an indelible impression all those years ago.

You have to be patient with Bruckner as his music unfolds at a majesterial pace - think of the scale of cathedrals and mountains. Though a humble and devoutly Christian man like Haydn, prone to anxiety and swayed by criticism, his music is monumental in every sense and leaves you with a sense of his devotion to his Creator. Combining the melodic gift of Schubert and the scale of Wagner, with his own intense and chromatic harmony, Bruckner's music is not for people in a hurry. It leaves you - well me at least - with a sense of awe and wonder. Bruckner regularly thanked God for his musical gift, and I thank God for Bruckner.

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