2 March 2012

Sam Burstin writes: Hello! We're Sam Burstin and Gijs Kramers from the viola section - welcome to the Philharmonia's new Beethoven Blog! We've been given the honour of describing the magnificent journey the orchestra is embarking on through the works of arguably the greatest composer who ever lived, Ludwig van Beethoven. Our Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, will lead us through overtures, concertos and all nine symphonies with an exploration that will span eight months and take in seven countries, thirteen cities, and twenty-three concerts, and will end with a five-day residency in Bonn, the German city of Beethoven's birth. What a trip!

We began the series last night with a fantastic concert at our 'home', the Royal Festival Hall in London. At least I think it was fantastic - I've been suffering with a very heavy cold (Man 'flu) and have been adding elephant-like fanfares of nose-blowing during the rehearsals this week, and last night I was completely deaf in my left ear. It's quite possible that the cellos and basses were playing completely out of tune throughout the concert and I just didn't notice, but judging by the huge cheers and rousing ovation we received at the end, I guess it went very well indeed!

The first half began with Brahms's beautiful Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, which is a masterpiece in counterpoint and orchestral colour. It's all about making sure the delicate woodwind lines can be heard, which requires us string players to entice the famous 'Philharmonia' sound from our instruments. I may let you into the secret one day... :)

We were then joined by lovely, legendary pianist Mitsuko Uchida for Schoenberg's complex Piano Concerto. I wasn't required to play as the strings were reduced, so I used the time backstage to blow my nose and take some photos for the blog. I saw the conductor and soloist just after they had come off stage, and Mitsuko was clearly delighted with how the performance had gone. We look forward to working with her again soon.

Then, Beethoven's 7th! What a piece - full of joy and passion, and possibly the best bass line ever in the last movement, a series of swaggering low E-D#-E-D# crotchets that sounds like dear Ludwig had had a few too many in the pub. Not that us musicians would know anything about that at all. Esa-Pekka did his best Crouching Cat Swaying Tail impression that inspired the low strings to dig deep for those notes, and even I heard them! Wonderful stuff, and we're very much looking forward to playing more on our tour to Hungary, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany next week.