Brussels with Pierre Boulez, 6 & 7 May 2008

With all the flying visits the LSO makes, often playing in a different city every night, it was somewhat of a relief for the players to be performing two concerts in the same venue on consecutive nights! This was however slightly tempered with the knowledge that the repertoire for these two concerts in the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels was far from straight-forward: music by Schoenberg, Bartok and Pierre Boulez, and the European premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s latest work, Osiris. Not only that, but it was all conducted by arguabley the most influential figure of contemporary music, Pierre Boulez himself! The opportunities for relaxation would be few, concentration levels needed to be at their highest.

The tour started well, with a very pleasant trip on the Eurostar. Not even two hours from London to Brussels, no changes, minimal fuss. After arrival at the hotel and a quick lunch it was off to the hall for rehearsal. The LSO truck had arrived (a relief after the drama of the trip to Dijon in March, when the truck was delayed at Dover and the concert had to be given in civvies and with borrowed instruments and music! See for the full story!) and stage manager Alan and his team were in the final throes of setting up the enormous battery of percussion required for the concert, looking somewhat exhausted.

The people of Brussels had turned out in force for the concert – fantastic to see such a big audience for this kind of repertoire. Boulez had also been part of a mini residency at the Bozar which included concerts with Mitsuko Uchida and guest-curating the Paul Klee exhibition, so the audience were eager to see him conduct again. The concert ended in rapturous applause and an encore of one of Boulez’s Notations, not your usual standard encore repertoire!

Back to the hotel after the concert, and the opportunity to relax over a couple of drinks. Aside from the barman who seemed as if he’d been watching Fawlty Tours as a training video, it was wonderful to be able to chat to the players and disect the concert – for someone who is usually in the admin offices, this was one of the most pleasurable parts of the trip!

An early start for the second day, with a morning rehearsal to attend. As I was there to film the players on tour for a new video for the website (coming soon – should be available by the end of the summer) we spent most of it taking shots of the players coming in and out, around and about the venue and preparing for an interview with Boulez and LSO Principal Percussion Neil Percy. We also took advantage of the beautiful sunny weather to get some establishing shots around Brussels – of the Royal Palace, the formal gardens and the Palais des Justice.

The afternoon was free, with many people choosing to use it catching up on rest and practice, but others taking in the sites of Brussels in the fabulous sunshine. Then it was back to the hall for the second concert, again to a huge and very appreciative audience. If anything the repertoire for this concert was much more challenging than the first – certainly the Matthias Pintscher piece was the most difficult for the players. But the audience lapped it up, giving ovations to Pintscher and several call-backs for Michelle DeYoung and Peter Fried, the soloists in the Schoenberg and Bartok. And of course, Boulez himself, who looked as if he’s enjoyed every minute.

After the concert some players went off to favourite post-concert dinner haunts (the LSO has visited Brussels several times in the last few years), whilst others went back to the hotel bar for a few drinks before bed – it was a fairly early start in the morning for the Eurostar home!

All-in-all a great trip, what a privilege to be able to spend time with the players and to watch one of the greatest composer/conductors at work. And excellent preparation for the players for the repeat of the second concert this Sunday in London!

Here are a few photos of the LSO on tour:


About LSO

The London Symphony Orchestra is one of the world's top orchestras. Our home is at the Barbican Centre in the City of London where we play over 80 concerts every year, but we also spend quite a bit of time out on the road, touring all over the world. Recently we have toured to Germany, France, Russia, New York, Japan, Holland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Lithuania; and coming up this year are China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Spain, Portugal, Florida, Romania and a return visit to New York, where we are resident at the Lincoln Center.
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