Everyone remembers their first concert, the feelings of excitement leading up to the day where you get to see your favorite artist, band, or in this case orchestra. The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) led an amazing performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat, K595 and Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The song of the Earth) on Saturday 29 September 2018. As this was my first time seeing an orchestra I asked one of my close friend’s, Thimo, to accompany me since he is classically trained in the piano and has played in various German orchestras. As we arrived to Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, the excitement and anticipation for what was to come was building up in my stomach. While we were waiting in line to collect our tickets Thimo mentioned that the LPO is among the best orchestras in the world alongside Vienna, Berlin, and the New York Philharmonic. After collecting our twenty-five-pound tickets each we headed to level 5, blue side, to find our rear stall seats in row LL, numbers 48 and 49 with the fear that we might not be able to see or hear well.
To our surprise, we didn’t have nosebleed seats, although, we bought the most affordable tickets we could still see/hear everything perfectly. The beautiful, spacious, sold out hall ensured everyone could see by elevating the stage which was surrounded by front row seats. On the right-hand wall the words ‘London Philharmonic Orchestra’ were projected next to the box seats. The stage in the first half was set up with the black grand piano in the middle, all the black chairs in their specific positions, the harps were to the back of the right side, and speakers aligned the edge of the front stage.
As the musicians started to file across the brightly lit stage into their seats holding their instruments the audience clapped with excitement. Once they were all onstage two-time Grammy Award winner, Mitsuko Uchida, graciously walked across the stage to the piano, greeted the Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Vladimir Jurowski, and greeted each section of the audience with a wave as we all clapped for her. According to orchestra etiquette, you only clap when the performers enter the hall, after the first section before you break for the interval, when they come back onstage after the interval, and at the end of the entire performance. Although there is always that one person that claps when you are not supposed to.
The lights in the hall were dimmed, Uchida was sat at the piano bench pushing her short black hair back and as soon as her fingers touched the keys the room was filled with the classical sound of Mozart. Uchida played with half the orchestra because a full orchestra would have overpowered her on the piano. The LPO was led by first violinist Pieter Schoeman, who was appointed Leader in 2008, having previously been Co-Leader since 2002.
Uchida’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.27 emphasized the melancholy and pensive aspects of the piece. She blew me away with her elegance, speed, and precision. The piece opens with a bar of accompaniment and a beautiful violin melody which sets the mood for the rest of the movement. You could hear the different themes throughout the performance with feelings of longing, the minor keys adding tinges of darkness, and the movement ends the same way it started. In the second movement the soloist and orchestra are in thematic unison providing feelings of sympathy and then the flute alone accompanies the piano in an intimate moment. Uchida and the orchestra were met with immense applause resulting in an encore from Uchida, the Andante from the C-major Sonata (K330), with tingling pianissimos (a passage performed softly), and at the end a moment of collective meditation.
During intermission, we went onto the 5th-floor balcony to enjoy the crisp chilly night and the gorgeous view of the city in which the buildings were lit up, the Southbank was full of life, music, people, and restaurants. I noticed that the majority of the concertgoers were middle-aged to elderly, there was a few young married couples, couples with kids, a handful of young adults, some on first dates, primarily white, and a few Spanish and Asian tourists.
Entering the hall again I immediately notice the removal of the piano and the added chairs for the rest of the orchestra. As the musicians walked onto the brightly lit stage they were accompanied by two solo singers, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and tenor Stuart Skelton. Das Lied has six movements for solo voice and orchestra, with the last one almost as long as the first five put together. The opening of the ‘Drinking song’ took my breath away because of the power and fullness of the orchestra, alongside Skelton’s fiery and triumphant singing you could hear the dark, suspenseful, and dramatic changes in the movements. As the movements continued onto ‘Autumn Loneliness,’ ‘Youth,’ and ‘Beauty’ the orchestra’s delicacy, precision, and unison created the feelings of tenderness, romance, and happiness.
Conolly, had to be signaled by the conductor twice on when to start and had a stand with the music on it while Skelton and Uchida did not need to read their notes. However, she was attentive to detail and phrasing making it easy for those who were following along with the text in the second movement. ‘Youth’ and ‘Beauty’ were my favorites because they were cheerful, carefree, and made me feel a sense of warmness. ‘Youth’ is about friends drinking, chatting, and laughing in a pavilion while ‘Beauty’ is about maidens picking flowers who are interrupted by horsemen who stir up their emotions. Skelton’s version of ‘Drunkard,’ the fifth movement, portrayed the joy to be had of drinking as stated in the text.
The final movement ’The Farewell’ has imitations of a funeral march which then heightens into a vast and implacable orchestral development section. Towards the end of the song a sudden realization occurs that nature will continue. Then the repetition of the word “ewig” (forever) gave the performance a purposeful close. The London Philharmonic Orchestra: Uchida Plays Mozart exceeded my expectations and for someone who has little knowledge on the classical and romantic periods of music this show captivated me and left me wanting to go to more concerts. Thankfully the program was thorough and had the translation of the songs because I did not know any of them, but through the music could understand the themes.