Philharmonia’s Mahler 6

It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know Mahler’s music I don’t think. Not really. If you see it advertised just go along. Don’t bother with the programme notes. Be prepared to let yourself go. Be curious. Be open. Be aware. See what happens. See how you feel. 

His sixth symphony is a good test of this strategy. It’s like the most epic film music Hans Zimmer wishes he could have written. It’s film music without the film getting in the way.

Mahler 6 is it if you’re looking for a Big Fuck Off shiny mirror that reflects back an image of yourself that is so vivid as to be almost unbearable to look at. Mahler 6 will show everything. Warts and All.

The entire work – the second movement in particular – has the same kind of effect on me as that moment when you know you’re about to pass a road traffic accident. You’re drawn to it but you’re also repelled by the thought of it too. You want to, but you know you shouldn’t. It’s epic in its scale and its demands (there were 108 players in Thursday night’s Philharmonia performance). Counter-intuitively it’s also intimate. Painfully personal.

The Philharmonia’s performance on Thursday night was a rare thing too – one of those concerts you see in the listings and think ‘that’ll be good’ AND it turns out to be good too. Listening back to the LSO’s recent recording with Gergiev I’m now wondering whether this is because of the writing rather than the playing in itself. No matter. If a band commits to playing it and selling tickets for a live performance you should feel reassured by their confidence and the inherent brilliance in Mahler’s writing. Buy the ticket. Go. Submit.

Some of the experience was undoubtedly down to my chosen seat: box one seat four overlooking the stage. But also because the band played with so much precision, painting so many vivid colours and textures. I was gripped throughout.

The second movement andante was emotional, heartwarming and consoling all at the same time. I ended up focussing on particular memory – the same I shared in a presentation to the Bath Festival Orchestra admin team a few weeks back – when me and old Britten-Pears pal Jacqueline sat in the circle at the Royal Albert Hall watching the then World Orchestra for Peace play the same work conducted by Gergiev. When the final note was plucked and the rich applause got underway, me and Jacqueline turned to one another and hugged for what felt like ages. A very special memory.

Pre-concert and interval there was heartwarming small talk with the others in the box (not something that always happens in the rest of the auditorium. One South African woman sat beside me now living in France who can’t drink wine or eat cheese (but sometimes does), and another wheelchair-bound lady in fantastic knitwear talking animatedly about the principal timpanist. Obviously, he was Very Good but I wonder whether she might have had a bit of a crush on him, truth be told.

The Sibelius Violin Concerto in the first half wasn’t the main draw for me, and yet Lisa Batiashvili’s sound I can only describe as confident and solid. This contributed to a theatrical depiction of the kind I’ve not experienced before. I must spend a bit of time searching out A Good Recording of the work in a bid to stir memories of the evening.

Proceedings were slightly marred, however. Exiting the last set of doors out onto the chilly outside I suddenly thought I’d dropped my programme. I stopped dead (and stepped aside), first looking at the floor, next realising that the programme on the floor wasn’t mine, then realising that the person behind me – a recognisable journo whose profile picture frequently pops up in my Twitter feed and in the copies of Gramophone I flick through every month – seemed a little irritated, tutting and puffing at me blocking his exit. Tsk. First thing tomorrow I’m cancelling my subscription.

Philharmonia’s Carol of the Bells ticks ALL of my boxes

Christmas is underway. The decorations are up at Thoroughly Good HQ. I can smell the approaching holidays. I can’t wait for things to get underway. I know things are tougher this year. Bills will be higher. Things will need to be tightened. Still, for those who pay heed to Christmas, the thought of escape, rest, and reflection gets me all giddy.

The Philharmonia’s 2022 Christmas video is ramping up the emotion too.

A deft piece of marketing featuring musicians from the database coming together to perform an arrangement of Shchedryk, a Ukrainian song celebrating New Year later reworked by composer Peter J. Wilhousky in the 1920s, more commonly known as Carol of the Bells.

The carol is often contextualised as ‘the music from Home Alone’. Given events this year that connection seems facile.

In highlighting the roots of the carol and one of its players connections with it, the Philharmonia have shown solidarity with an ongoing cause. It’s a touching performance, saving the most vulnerable moment right until the end.

An artistic brands relevance isn’t only measured by the number of tickets sold for live concerts. It’s also about how it can illustrate its understanding of the world around it in the content it makes.

First selection of live events announced for 2021

There’s a new phrase to look out for in press releases: live audience. Guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. Worthy of bringing to the attention of readers. Necessary to celebrate. Important to underline.

Now is the time to bring attention to those intrepid arts administrators who are scheduling their first events for people in real life.

I’m not entirely sure whether I can keep a regular set of updates on here, but I am going to try my very best. Here’s the first selection of ‘trailblazers’ bringing live music back to the real world.

Hertfordshire Festival of Music 2021 (4-10 June 2021)

Albion String Quartet

Conductor (and Thoroughly Good Podcastee) Tom Hammond and composer James Francis Brown are staging last year’s COVID-post-poned Hertfordshire Festival of Music, with the help of the music of Judith Weir, violinist Chloë Hanslip, pianists Florean Mitrea and Danny Driver, the Albion Quartet (their Dvorak string quartets 5 & 12 released on Signum from 2019 is worthy of your attention if you haven’t already experienced it), and the ridiculously energetic cellist and actor Matthew Sharp.

Full list of performances on the Hertfordshire Festival of Music website.

London Piano Festival (8-10 October 2021)

It seems like a ridiculously way off (and in a far-away land in Kings Place, London), but the further away that live music experiences are billed, the more reliable the guarantee will be closer to, what feels like now, a nostalgic sense of normality. The brilliant Gabriela Montero, another Thoroughly Good Podcastee, brings The Immigrant, a recital culminating in a live improvisation to Charlie Chaplin’s short film to LPF this year.

There’s a premiere of premiere of Sally Beamish’s new two-piano work, Sonnets. In the same concert a group of five pianists – Katya Apekisheva, Finghin Collins, Gabriela Montero, Charles Owen and Kathryn Stott – perform works by Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Rachmaninov and Poulenc on two interlocking Steinways.

The Festival culminates on Sunday morning when Charles Owen is joined by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy to explore the symmetry between maths and the music of J.S. Bach, including a performance of Goldberg Variations. Live performance AND immersion in nerdy detail. I’m in the queue before YOU.

Tickets and event details via the London Piano Festival website.

BBC Proms 2021 (30 July – 11 September 2021)

This completely passed me by. I didn’t see it in my social media feeds. And I am ENORMOUSLY relieved to discover that in whatever form the BBC Proms is going to go ahead this year. And I am prepared to wait my turn to attend.

London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Concerts at Southbank Centre from 28 May

News from the Southbank Centre is that two of their resident orchestras the London Philharmonic and Philharmonia will announce their live audience events on 14th April.

Manchester Collective at King’s Place

Manchester Collective (18 June 2021)

Manchester Collective show interrogates the darker side of the American dream, evoking the intrigue and momentum of New York City’s sleepless nights and crowded streets. Steve Reich’s signature throbbing masterpieces bookend the programme and set the tempo throughout. Fast. Slow. Fast. The Double Sextet features an explosion of fractured rhythms and the composer’s characteristic shifts of mood. Elsewhere in the programme, the Collective perform the world premiere of a new work by the “inventive, challenging, and glorious” Hannah Peel. Finally, David Lang’s underhand masterpiece ‘Cheating, Lying, Stealing’.

A socially-distanced concert at King’s Place. Tickets at the Kings Place website

Nicola Benedetti, Aurora Orchestra & Nicholas Collon (4 July 2021)

Aurora Orchestra performs Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Nicola Benedetti. Benedetti could play a C major scale with orchestral accompaniment and would still be an uplifting affair.

Royal Festival Hall with a live audience. Tickets available here from 14 April. 

Nice work

The Philharnonia premiered a concert this evening via their YouTube and Facebook channels, with a simulstream via that other radio station dedicated to classical music, Classic FM.

Some thoughts bubbled up to the surface whilst I was chopping veg for the casserole tonight.

First, the slew of YouTube premieres from various bands are a lovely thing. But, tonight’s I find myself listening to the Philharmonia’s like it’s a radio broadcast. Then when there’s conversation in between performance, I focus in on what’s being said.

Second, the conversation challenges assumptions. Anne Marie Minhall is a brilliant broadcaster. Solid. Authentic. Trusted. The conversation she facilitates with Jaarvi and Benedetti is enlightening. Touching. Fitting perhaps. There is a sense of occasion about it even though I’m listening on my smart speaker not watching.

Third, I end up thinking that Classic are basically nipping at the heels of Radio 3. At least online they are. And that’s quite some achievement.

Lovely setting. Beautiful photography. And even though I’m getting a little sick of Lark Ascending there is a valid argument for the value of the work’s repetition right now.

Nice work everybody. You’re still my favourite band Philharmonia.