London Symphony Orchestra led to victory in USA by its American conductor

San Diego (California) – Abdul Rahman Bitar

The great British composer Benjamin Britten discovered in 1941 during the

Second World War while he was living in the United States an important well

known poet of the 19th century describing Britten‘s coastal village in England. He

was inspired to compose an opera about the tragedy of the fisherman, Peter

Grimes. Britten composed the music in San Diego’s suburb of Escondido , and we

heard selections of the piece in the same city played by the London Symphony

Orchestra led by the renowned American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

London Symphony Orchestra led to victory in USA by its American conductor

Exciting mixture of music of British fisherman, American jazz and

Finnish popular songs
An outstanding concert was organized by the La Jolla Music Society and was held

in the symphony hall of San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Attendance was dense

because a visit of such an illustrious musical group as the London Symphony

orchestra is not repeated often in this beautiful happy city on the shores of the

Pacific Ocean.

Tilson Thomas led the British orchestra in its American tour this spring. He has

been conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for the last 15 years, but

he is also the principal guest of the British orchestra led by his famous Russian

colleague, Valery Gergiev. He is as well the heir of a leading artistic family in the

US and had close relations with the great Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky. His

repertoire includes over 120 cds of  the top ranking classical composers.

London Symphony Orchestra was established in 1906 and has the biggest share of

recordings of classical and film music. Its current leading conductor, Gergiev will

be replaced in 2017 by the incredible British conductor Simon Rattle  who

currently leads the top orchestra in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Among the prominent conductors who led the London Symphony Orchestra over

the decades were: Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Colin Davis, the Italian Claudio

Abbado and the French Pierre Monteaux.

Tilson Thomas moved steadily and victoriously towards the summit of success. He

did not adopt a speedy pace as was done in the past by his peers but rather he

held firmly  the orchestra especially the brass section. He presented an enjoyable

concert with slow speed. Some of the old recordings of Sibelius’s second

symphony, full of popular music, took 39 minutes whereas now we heard the

same piece taking almost 49 minutes. The performance was delightful and

effective and received a lot of admiration and profuse applause. The piano

concerto of the American composer George Gershwin, known for his jazz songs in

the 30s of the last century, had the right measure of the correct speed and

tempo. The Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, while highly competent, somewhat missed

the flexible spirit of jazz music. She is an extreme master of technique and plays

as if she is not exerting any effort. She surprised us with her elegant green dress,

and I heard that she impressed the audience in Los Angeles with her equally

splendid red crimson dress.

Tilson Thomas gave us a very good idea on how to design a diverse musical

programme which includes different modern style pieces but blend with such

harmony. Britten’s music flowed full of life, very sensitive and peculiar that we

felt the composer’s introspective approach and the inward intensity of Peter

Grimes. The happy lively piano concerto of Gershwin mixing jazz phrases with

classical melodies was played with exuberance even though it was slightly brash.

The patriotic spirit of Sibelius could not be hidden. When symphony No. 2 was

composed, Finland was under some kind of control by Russia, Sibelius was an

admirer of Tchaikovsky, but his nationalism prevailed. The conductor showed

natural authority and masterly control ; his reading gave a definite interpretation

of the free Finnish spirit. His style has deepened over the years and is broader in

tempo and more profound in feeling. His conducting showed real stature; he is a

reliable interpreter without inserting himself in the piece.

LSO was led to victory in this tour because Tilson Thomas had a full grip on the

musicians. With one simple gesture a hundred players, with military discipline,

would stop playing  then resume playing emotional soft melodies thus creating

the contrast between force and tenderness. The audience were also under the

grip of the conductor. They were quietly listening with great expectation then

exploding in applause. This interaction between the conductor, the orchestra and

the audience invited Tilson Thomas to give an unusual encore after the concert

was over. He played one of Brahms’ Hungarian dances which was received very

enthusiastically. The maestro then made a signal with his hands and face that he

was ready to go to sleep, so the excellent party came to an end. We remained in a

world where the beautiful music echoed in our heads until we went to bed as


Wednesday, April 29th 2015
Abdul Rahman Bitar

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