Although in name we are the London Symphony Orchestra, there are in fact very few members who are from London itself. The great metropolis has always been just down the road from my home town of Guildford, but a quick glance down the list in our programme will see some decidedly exotic names. I think that the first violin section is one of the most diverse. Just off the top of my head we have players from England, Wales, Tasmania, Montenegro, Belgium, Germany, France, Malta and I am in no doubt that some violinist will collar me on a train tomorrow complaining that I forgot them and their country. As a matter of fact, the chairman pursued me on the station this morning simply to let me know I had made a spelling mistake yesterday. He has an admirable, if not a little irritating, eye for detail … oh and of course as predicted I forgot him in the list. He is from Scotland.
MTT of course is from the US of A and has brought with him some patriotic repertoire. This tour will find us playing a fair old dollop of Ives and Copland alongside Brahms and Berlioz. However the Copland we are playing isn’t the nostalgic, wide open plains music that you probably have running through your mind and I’m not sure what shapes Martha Graham would have thrown for the orchestral variations we are playing. They are an arrangement for orchestra that Copland made of his variations for piano which were then fleshed out by MTT himself. With his youthful enthusiasm and age defying appearance, it still comes as a shock when MTT casually mentions that he chatted with Copland himself about the orchestration. Just as when Rostropovitch used to talk about his friendship with Shostakovitch and some of my older colleagues reminisce about Britten, when someone speaks of direct contact with the composer, you have to listen to what they have to say. This is how great musical traditions are passed down.
The Orchestral Variations are a little more challenging than you might expect, in fact MTT said that when Bernstein wanted guests to leave his parties he would sit down at the piano and play the piano version thereby instantly clearing the room. From what I hear about Bernstein though, he probably didn’t play it much… A very angular melody is gradually transformed throughout the short piece with the familiar sparse textures Copland is known for, but at other times dense, astringent textures shriek out before the 5/8 – 7/8 sections with that swing from Appalachian Spring that you’ll recognise. It is however short lived before percussion is unleashed and the extremities of the brass section are explored. Make no mistake, this is no soporific concert opener, it’s more of a case of Appalachian Hangover.
As is his wont, MTT came on armed with a microphone at the first performance and proceeded to give an introductory speech in German to great smiles and applause. It’s always good to reassure the audience before their voyage into the unknown or in this case something they think they will know, only to discover that they don’t. Like biting into a jam doughnut in Tokyo to discover it’s full of soya bean paste. Sort of. His German sounded pretty convincing to me, I looked across at our German member in the firsts and he wasn’t smirking, so I guess it was pretty good, but MTT knows his limits and so yesterday night in Rimini it was another of our international ensemble who stepped up to the mic. Bass clarinet player,
Lorenzo Iosco, from the parish of Tuscany, was more nervous than I have ever seen him before as he paced up and down before the show. MTT had given him a list of points to make which he translated, but Lorenzo being Italian did it with style and flair! The piano was in place at the front of the stage and because of the short cable, he stood on stage left at the non keyboard end.
He introduced himself and then proceeded to explain the Copland at a speed which left me jet lagged – but the audience of course understood every word and beamed with pride at one of their own in the ranks of the LSO. As he gathered pace he became visibly relaxed, he produced a piece of paper from his tails and illuminated MTT’s points with what I assume was total clarity. A born performer, all of a sudden, his left elbow jutted out and leant on the piano lid whilst he jauntily cocked his leg back like Frank Sinatra at the Sands, and all of a sudden, he looked like he was going to run with the opportunity he had been given and was about to burst into a Tuscan version of My Way. Unfortunately he didn’t, and to huge applause from audience and orchestra alike, he returned to his seat to play.
Tonight there is no Copland and apparently Lorenzo isn’t going to give a talk on Brahms which is a shame, but Chi, Chris and I benefitted from his Italian style just now after lunch; it turns out that as well as being a Rat Pack impersonator, he also has inbuilt GPS for Italian ice cream. Now that is a talent worth having.