Hello, and welcome to the new Philharmonia blog! My name is Sam Burstin, I've been a violist in the orchestra since 2005, and I'm honoured to have been asked to relay to you the sights, sounds, stresses and stories from our tremendously exciting tour to the Unites States of America, for which we leave on Monday (stormy Sandy permitting!).

The Philharmonia is famed for its touring schedule. As readers of the recent Beethoven blog will know, we travel far and wide, both nationally and internationally, playing wonderful music to hundreds of thousands of people each year. And in these times of financial stress and economic woe, it is even more important to keep alive art and culture, the honey of the human soul, to inspire the young and empower and enliven those feeling the pressures of life. And tours don't get much better than this!

We'll be playing some amazing music in some of the finest cities, in a country famed for its cultural fusions and artistic excellence. America has such an incredible history of diversity, with European, African and Asian influxes over the centuries, and these works are so powerful and universal in their meaning, they will touch the hearts and minds of all who hear them.

Mahler was a collosus of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a composer and conductor, he changed the world of classical music forever. His 9th symphony, the last he completed, is an incredible journey through life. The great American musician Leonard Bernstein said the four movements were, in turn, farewells to happiness, the countryside, city chaos and finally life itself. The ending of the finale is without equal; extraordinarily emotional, lingering beauty, moving to another world. I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck is the horribly tragic story of a man whose life collapses about him. To be honest, when we started rehearsing it a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't stand it. Seriously, I was sat there in Watford wishing I was somewhere, anywhere else, playing something, anything else! It's atonal (without a home key), is difficult, and lasts for 90 minutes. And I was a little hungover. But, once the absolutely incredible cast of 10 singers joined us, and the three choirs joined us, and the off-stage band struck up, and the honky tonk piano was banging away with abandon... well, I'm delighted to say that it all made sense! It truly is an astonishingly powerful, moving work, with moments of great beauty too. Just please make sure you read the libretto before listening to it, as like me, you probably won't get it without understanding what's going on!

We're also playing pieces by Beethoven, Berlioz and others. Guiding us through them all with fantastic Finnish finesse will be our Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is well known to American audiences after his 17 years at the helm of the LA Philharmonic. We have just returned from performing both the Mahler and the Berg in Dortmund, Germany, and I can tell you that these concerts are going to be quite brilliant.

The last time we went to the States was May 2008, and I particularly loved San Francisco. The bridge, the Bay... the Saloon, Fog City Diner! All places I can't wait to revisit. Boy, those onion rings... And I'm delighted to have violist Gwen Fisher and bassist Mike Fuller, real All-Americans, to call on for local insights into Chicago and California respectively. So stay tuned for what promises to be a wonderful few weeks, with weather reports, election hysteria, Thanksgiving tales and, of course, some magnificent music-making.

Finally, some of you may know about the Movember movement. Men (and possibly some women!) around the world try to grow a moustache for a month to look silly and to raise money for prostate cancer. Some of us have decided to join this very worthy scheme, and so if you would like to sponsor the PhilharMOnia Bros in their quest for Movember, please follow this link and give generously!


Photos of the mo growing will appear sporadically over the next few weeks on this very blog... You have been warned!

Thanks for reading, the next one will come from the Windy City - Chicago, USA!