I’m going to a concert tonight at London’s Royal Festival Hall when the Philharmonia Orchestra will be playing one of my favourite pieces of classical music, Brahms’ First Symphony (1876). It is just one of many of my favourite works by the great German composer but one that has multiple personal associations for me as well as being, well, purely inspirational. It is the first time that I’ve heard it played at a concert too so I’m doubly excited.
I’ve had the ticket since last year when January 24th became the first red letter day in my 2013 diary.
The orchestra will be conducted by that young rising star, the Ossetian firebrand, Tugan Sokhiev who, I hope, will bring some of his youthful passion to this most passionate of symphonies. He is currently principal conductor of Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, having held that job previously with the Orchestre National du Capital de Toulouse and Welsh National Opera.
I have a CD of his conducting Tchaikovsky’s Fourth (1878) and Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1874, orchestrated by Ravel in 1922)) with his French orchestra which is steamingly hot so my expectations for tonight are riding high. He will be joined by the equally fiery Japanese violinist Akiko Suwanai who will play Dvorak’s wonderfully lyrical Violin Concerto, one of her speciality pieces.
As some of you may know, I’m trying to stick to my self-imposed history of music project where, over a period of now nearly fourteen years, I have been working my way through the classical repertoire in chronological order from the year 1100. I have just reached 1878 so the Brahms (1876) is perfectly legit. as is Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture (1826) but the Dvorak was written in 1879. What do I do? Walk out whilst it’s being played? Put my fingers in my ears? Well, no. I have sought justification in the fact that Dvorak was inspired to write the work after meeting the great Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim in 1878 so at least part of it must have been in his mind during my current year. Phew. It also happens that I’m a lifelong devotee of Antonin Dvorak who can be dismissed too readily as merely a pleasant tunesmith. As Brahms recognised, he was a truly great composer.
I am there from the Brahms though and if, unlike me, you’re not lucky enough to have a ticket you can still hear it tonight as it’s being broadcast live by BBC Radio 3 at 7.30 GMT.
If you want to get a feel of the work, here’s the slow movement from my favourite recording of it with James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Tugan Sokhiev has a difficult task bettering this: