Megaron and the enormous organ

Another year, another blog. Yes, I know its February but this is the first time I have managed to put virtual pen to…er…virtual paper. I was looking through some of the old blogs the other day which date back to 2007. The reason for this is that we are off to New York soon and I have no wish to repeat myself as it will be the third time I have blogged from that great city. To be honest I was a little worried that I wouldn’t have anything to write about, there are only so many ways I can describe Valery’s style, or Colin’s effortlessness. However, the pressure is now on as you may have noticed that the LSO website is now a sleek, slimline thing of beauty. Jo up in LSO towers has been working her socks off getting it ready and it is now fully functional and awaiting your visit. At the moment it is green, although this will change depending on our mood. Not wanting to be left out the blog has a new classy font and is green too. I expect you’d noticed. Don’t adjust your sets, normal service will continue.

As I was saying, I thought that I had written everything that could be said about the touring life – and then we go and have an organ malfunction. Well actually that’s not strictly true, it was the lift that broke with the organ in it. As you will probably know, there is no built-in organ in the Barbican so we have to hire in an electronic one, which the critics never fail to mention. So in the rehearsal for the concert in the Barbican we were due to start with Also sprach Zarathustra, however with no organ we started a little quieter until we eventually heard the subterranean clanking below the stage which signalled its arrival. We left the stage, it was lifted out of its tomb, plugged in and we continued. Daniel Harding (who had already told me that he had read the blog from Christmas involving firearms) looked a little nervous. I looked concerned, but was secretly pleased for the blog readers. If you were at the concert last week, you will know that everything worked in the end and so my story has no quirky ending.

And so on Friday we left for the sunnier climes of Athens. That’s Greece, not Georgia if you are in the US. Unusually for us we checked in at 11am, very late, and arrived at 6pm and had a free evening. Because of this the mood was relaxed, especially as we were told that the nightlife didn’t really get going until midnight, and we didn’t have to go to work the following day until about 5pm. It was bliss. Some of my woodwind colleagues and I, and a couple of infiltrators, found a suitably scenic spot overlooking the Acropolis and tucked into a mezze and a half. A tattooed man walked up and down the road taking a swig from a bottle and blowing fire to entertain us, and a bouzouki player plucked away in the corner. I sat back in my chair and sipped some ouzo and drank in the authentic Greek atmosphere until the fire breather came round with his hat. He was from Aberystwyth. It is always nice to leave a rainy London and find yourself a few hours later wandering around in a t shirt, although all the locals were in coats and scarves of course. I can confirm that Athens did indeed get going around midnight, and because of the two hour time change it actually felt quite early, so we stayed out past our normal bedtime and did our bit for the economy.

The next glorious day saw the LSO disperse around the various and many places to visit in the city. I found myself on a boat called the Flying Dolphin, whizzing across the sea to Egina, a very beautiful island where we sat, watched and ate and were generally made to feel very welcome indeed. But all things must come to an end and so we left plenty of time to get back to the city for the first of the two concerts.

The Megaron concert hall is marvellous. After the Davies Symphony Hall in San Fran, it is my favourite name for a venue. We were repeating the concert we had performed in the Barbican three days earlier and I hoped that the lift would be working properly as we only had a short seating call. However I needn’t have worried as when I came on stage left, I was greeted by the most magnificent organ I had ever seen. 

It seemed to stretch from one side of the stage to the other. I’m glad that they didn’t have to put it in a lift to be honest. By the time the concert came and the hiss of the bellows began there was a nervous edge in the hall before Dan brought that famous opening rumble in. It seemed to have about 100 octaves in it and even at the low volume with which it begins, I could feel my chair vibrate. By the time we reach the loud bit a few bars later, I began to fear for the foundations of ancient Athens. After the famous opening, in case you didn’t know, there is quite a lot of other music too. Tomo Keller, who was leading, played beautifully as did the many other soloists within the orchestra in what is very difficult music to play. Daniel did a marvellous job of bringing out the different lines within the orchestra. During rehearsal during the week, he continually asked us to not force the sound. Let’s face it, with so many instruments on stage playing so many notes at the same time it needs a little clarifying, and this often means going against your natural tendency to play louder and louder as the piece goes on. In the Megaron, the different textures seemed to take on a luminosity and the whole piece really sang. There was one gentleman who enjoyed it so much and was so intent on making sure that he let everyone know that he knew when the piece ended, that he shouted bravo whilst the final hard won chords were still echoing around the hall. It actually made many members of the orchestra jump as Daniel’s arms were still not moving. Such a shame we left the conductor’s revolver in Palermo, as I’m sure he would have liked it at that moment.

The next day we rehearsed all morning and then played the concert in the evening, more Strauss, some Wagner and Brahms. Janine Jansen was the soloist in the violin concerto and she dressed like a Greek goddess in a long flowing blue dress. I have to say that the Brahms is another of those pieces that I have played millions of times, but she really brought a lovely quality to it, I haven’t enjoyed playing it so much for ages. In the second half we took on another frivolous topic with Mr Strauss, Death and Transfiguration. This is another of those pieces that I love playing with the LSO, the sound is incredible and again, Daniel brings out tiny details in the texture which I haven’t heard before. As the piece reaches one of the many climaxes, I can’t help noticing the similarity between it and many of the famous film scores the LSO has recorded. Maybe that’s why I enjoy it so much, maybe that’s why the orchestra sounds so good in this repertoire. Maybe you could judge for yourself. We repeat the concert on Thursday night back home in the Barbican and there are still a few tickets available.

There is no organ either.

See you in New York next week.

More pics from Lorenzo here:!/album.php?aid=2107212&id=1532442211

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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