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Mike Fuller (double bass) and Richard Birchall (cello) take us behind the scenes on the Orchestra's tour to the Far East with Maestro Lorin Maazel.

Buddhist lunch!

Buddhist lunch!

Who is 'Phil Harmony'? Is he famous?

Who is 'Phil Harmony'? Is he famous?

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

8 April 2012

Soong Choo writes: After a gentle stroll around central Seoul I took a smaller group to a Buddhist Temple food restaurant and had a feast. Made me think it wouldn't be a bad thing being a monk, but then I do like my meat so maybe not.

Now to official business, the concert was a resounding success, the audience were extremely attentive and we received a rapturous applause with a loud shout and standing ovation at the end of the Mahler 5, I guess it's that kind of piece where if you play well (which we certainly did), the audience really go through a whole range of emotions with waves of intensity and calmness.

My favourite movement is the Adagietto, which is painfully beautiful and makes me swell up inside every time I play it. I think I read somewhere that Mahler wrote the movement for his future wife Alma as a marriage proposal and you can certainly feel the deep love he had for her and the intoxicating emotions he must have felt and the pangs of longing. But crucially for me I think it's saying 'I can't live without you', and who could refuse such a beautiful heart felt plea?!

After the concert I wasn't really hungry but ended up going to a Korean fried chicken place my Korean friend took us to and I had far more than I should or needed to but it was so finger-licking good, especially when washed down with beer.

I have the Korean BBQ and Soju (Korea's number 1 drink) to look forward to tomorrow night and it has been a pleasure writing the blog on the Philharmonia office's iPad and sad that I have to hand it back. So, thanks for reading and I hand you back to Mike and Richard. Safe journey back guys!

P.S one useful Korean phrase when you just had the most amazing food is 'jook e neo' which means 'it's killing me'.

7 April 2012

Han-shik 1 of 10 courses

Han-shik 1 of 10 courses

Temple of food!

Temple of food!

Musicians in traditional dress parade through the streets of Seoul

Musicians in traditional dress parade through the streets of Seoul

Soong Choo writes: We are flying to Seoul today. Got up and felt really good this morning, slept six hours straight for the first time in days. Finally beat the jet lag (hope I haven't spoken too early), which is just as well as I am really looking forward to Seoul for many many reasons but above all, it's the food if truth be told.

I have made a list of places that I want to go to and it works out that I have to have on average 4.5 meals a day, even with staying on in Seoul for another 6 days, which is what I'm doing (just as well). I was trying to prepare myself for this task by losing some weight before I got to Seoul so that I could really pig out and still have clothes that fit me but I think I failed judging by the notch on my belt buckle this morning (I blame yummy Chinese food!) Like most Koreans, I love food and I ADORE my Korean food .

Just landed in Seoul (Incheon International Airport). Incheon is the main gateway to Korea and is also a very important port for Korea's imports and exports, but for me it has a personal significance as the birthplace of my grandmother who I think laid the seed for my existence as a musician living in London (thanks Gran!). Incheon was the birthplace of Korean Christianity with the arrival of Anglican missionaries at the turn of the last century and my grandmother became a Christian in her teens in the 1920s and came in contact with western culture, education and music. When she got married and had my dad, who is now a retired linguist, he had a lifelong love of the English language and classical music and so when I came along he was very supportive and encouraged me in my musical education.

Anyway I think we're near the hotel and back to the food. I am taking 17 people to a traditional Korean restaurant (HanJung Sihk) that my mum has recommended so it should be great, well I'm looking forward to it and I deliberately didn't have the airplane meal and now I'm feeling a bit peckish.

Well, the food was amazing (thanks mum!), we were late getting there after an 'interesting' journey via the subway (which needs a separate chapter!), and the food started to arrive as soon as we sat down (it was pre-ordered by my cousin the day before) and it just kept coming, dish after dish (I lost count after about 10), not sure myself what all the dishes were but it was fantastic! So one down and 36 meals to go!

6 April 2012

Tienamen Square, Beijing

Tienamen Square, Beijing

Lobby of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing

Lobby of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing

Keep Going!

Michael Fuller writes: Yes, Richard, I have also often contemplated the mysterious power of "the handbag", an item that to us men seems to only serve the practical purpose of carrying things around from point "A" to point "B" but to women around the world seems to have acquired an almost-mystical power. Yet however much I ponder this phenomenon (particularly after an exhausting day being dragged from shop to shop), it remains a great mystery to me, and perhaps always will...

Right, so we played Mahler 5 in Beijing last night, and it was extra-special for me because my parents in-law were in attendance. This tour was the first time they've heard the Philharmonia, and they were simply blown away by the orchestra's sound. They especially loved our principal horn Nigel Black's horn solo in the 3rd movement, and said they'd generally never heard such wonderful brass playing before. It was really fun to hear all their impressions about the orchestra after the concert, and a real treat to share this part of our lives with them!

Beijing is a city that feels distinctly different from Hong Kong, Guangzhou, or Shanghai. Beijing strikes me as more like the "communist" China we may have imagined or seen in magazines when we were younger. Chairman Mao's portrait still adorns the front of the entrance to the Forbidden City, and the boulevards are grand and wide, reminding you that this is the capital of the most populous nation on Earth. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of new skyscrapers and shopping centers, it's just that it's all so, well...imperial is the word that comes to mind. In fact, one senses a certain continuity between the Chinese dynasties of ancient times, through the Communist era, and into today. In all cases the state is king, and Beijing is and has been the seat of that power. Everything here is on a massive, almost super-human scale. I felt very small crossing Tienamen square to reach the concert hall. (Well, not necessarily compared to all the Chinese people around me, but you get the idea...)

The National Center for the Performing Arts is no exception, the complex includes an opera house, a symphony hall and other smaller performance spaces. In fact it took so long to walk to through to the backstage that they actually posted a sign saying "Philharmonia, keep going!" I took that as not only a practical direction in this instance, but as a statement that could also be our credo! We will indeed keep going- next stop is Seoul, South Korea and we'll have a special guest blog contribution from violinist Soong Choo, our "Seoul Correspondent". Stay tuned!

5 April 2012

Shanghai bustle

Shanghai bustle

Violinist Laurent Quenelle wants to know what he's getting

Violinist Laurent Quenelle wants to know what he's getting

Duck night!

Duck night!

Richard Birchall writes: For those of us without Chinese wives, this week so far has been one long and very entertaining game of charades; on European tours it's usually possible to dredge up some long-lost vocabulary from the hazy memories of school and muddle through (often receiving a condescending smile or weary sigh and a response in English), but here the language (and alphabet) barrier is so strong that gaining directions in the street or asking for clarification of what sort of animal is on your plate can inspire the most animated and creative of sign language. It's something we Westerners rarely have to deal with but it's rather wonderful to feel more deeply immersed in a foreign existence.

Luckily the language of music is universal, and it's a part of Western culture that the Chinese have embraced whole-heartedly. We've given three concerts in halls packed with attentive and appreciative listeners (any rumours that delicate and hushed passages of Mahler might be sabotaged by phone conversations from the stalls have so far proved unfounded), and we have enjoyed sharing the stage with three excellent string soloists from this side of the world. Music-lovers here are keen to nurture links with Western musicians and it's becoming such an important market for our orchestras - two other leading London bands have followed similar tour schedules in the last couple of months alone - and every time important links are fostered for the future. As in so many walks of life, the East is becoming a vital source of business and no doubt trips such as this will become more and more routine over the coming years.

Talking of business, both Shanghai and Beijing are home to extensive and chaotic markets, where I've been admiring the haggling skills and sheer tenacity of some of my female colleagues. (There's something about handbags. I don't yet feel the full magnetism but they are very powerful objects, even bright orange ones.) The stalls are so tightly packed together, every shelf so crammed, and every seller so vocal and persistent that it can be a challenge to get from one end of a row to the other (even a row without handbags); what's more, the last three days have been Qingming festival here in China - one of the seven official public holidays - so thousands of people have flocked to the big cities (just to catch a glimpse of the Philharmonia Orchestra, of course) and the crowds have been extraordinary! Luckily Mike and I are both tall, even by British and American standards, so with our heads and shoulders floating above the human sea it hasn't been a problem keeping in sight of our companions.

Last night a group of us followed the advice of an ancient Chinese proverb 'When in Beijing, eat loads of duck' and headed to nearby restaurant DaDong for a fantastic meal. We've all had hoisin duck pancakes at home, but it's really a special treat to enjoy it right here at the very home of Peking Duck tradition!

Today it's back to work and the first of two performances of Mahler's Fifth Symphony (we return to the First for the last concert of the tour, in Seoul), and we are looking forward to tonight's concert at the National Centre for the Performing Arts here in Beijing.

3 April 2012

Futuristic Guangzhou

Futuristic Guangzhou

Lulu sorting them out at the ticket desk, with Per, Malcolm and Mark

Lulu sorting them out at the ticket desk, with Per, Malcolm and Mark

View from the Bund in Shanghai

View from the Bund in Shanghai

Michael Fuller writes: We're off to Shanghai today from Guangzhou, and I have to give special props to my lovely wife Lulu and her peerless Mandarin speaking skills. After a major foul-up at the check-in desk in Guangzhou, where the flight was overbooked, boarding passes were assigned to the wrong people, and passports temporarily disappeared, Lulu was the only one able to communicate with all the parties involved to make sure everyone got on a flight in the end. To make a long story short, there were a few of us who might have had to hitchhike to Shanghai if she hadn't saved the day! Bravo Lulu! Or maybe I should say-

It's really impressive to see all the ultra-modern hotels, concert halls, high-speed rail and airports in this 'New China'. I have been to China several times now, and every time I come back I am amazed at how it has modernized by leaps and bounds. Walking around the area where we stayed and played last night felt like being in a city of the future. But sometimes, when things like this airport incident happen, I get the feeling that it doesn't all quite work yet! I think it's only a matter of time, but there has been such a rapid change in so many aspects of life here that it's as though people haven't had a chance to adjust yet. If you think about how Europe changed and became more modern over centuries, and China is doing that and much more in the space of a couple of decades. It's wild to literally see it happen right before your eyes. One thing I feel more strongly than ever on this trip is that China IS the future, and that's why it's so important that the Philharmonia is over here playing great concerts with a conductor like Maestro Maazel. The audiences so far have been really passionate, erupting into cheers after the final chords of Mahler 1!

This afternoon in Shanghai a few of us sampled an older Chinese tradition- Xiao Long Bao, the famous Shanghai soup dumplings, which were fantastic! That was followed by a walk on the Bund, the famous promenade along the Huangpu river which has old buildings from the colonial period on one side and the brand-spanking new skyline of the Pudong area on the other. Clearly the right move at this point is cocktails in a spot overlooking all this grandeur, now that's Shanghai in style!

1 April 2012

Traveling to Guangzhou takes many forms- big person, little suitcase, little person, big suitcase!

Traveling to Guangzhou takes many forms- big person, little suitcase, little person, big suitcase!

Hong Kong skyline at night

Hong Kong skyline at night

Richard Birchall writes: Thanks Mike! I'm delighted to join the blogging team, and glad the lower strings are now in charge...! To pick up where we left off: our first concert of the tour was on Saturday afternoon at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (the main arts and performance venue for the island), and we were greeted by a full house - always a good way to start! The programme of Haydn's C major Cello Concerto (with prominent HK soloist Trey Lee) followed by Mahler 1 drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd, and an encore of the Overture from Wagner's Die Meistersinger brought many of them to their feet. But it wasn't just the audience that enjoyed themselves; we as an orchestra are fresh from a complete Mahler cycle with Maestro Lorin Maazel last year, and as Mike said earlier the chance to dive back into two of the most popular symphonies under the same experienced and commanding direction could only be a great pleasure. Not even a healthy dose of West-to-East jetlag could dampen the thrill of the final page of the Mahler, where the whole horn section stand up to deliver their fanfare material!

Having enjoyed the rare luxury of two nights in the same place, the Philharmonia were on the move again this morning, catching a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, our first port of call in mainland China. The potential logistical nightmare of extracting a whole symphony orchestra with luggage and instruments from the carriages at Guangzhou East before the train began to move again seemed to pass without incident - and if we left anyone behind we haven't noticed yet! Straight on the coach to the centre of town, and here we are checked in to hotel number two.

Being such a regular travelling orchestra has its ups and downs, for sure; from a personal point of view, my daughter Hazel is just nine weeks old but it's already the third time I've had to leave her and my wife Helen to go abroad since she was born. It can be a wrench! The plus sides, though, are a chance to see some fascinating places, so very different from home - Hong Kong was really a gentle introduction, and life in China itself already feels much more alien - and occasionally to catch up with friends who no longer live in the UK. Pretty often on a tour schedule there will be a city near where a student friend or colleague lives, and I had the great pleasure of spending a couple of evenings in Hong Kong with my old room-mate Felix, who introduced me to the HK tram system and showed me where to find excellent roast goose! (Among other things.)

The second concert is tonight in the opera house here in Guangzhou - look forward to letting you know all about it...

30 March 2012

Hot off the presses of Hong Kong's Sing Tao Daily

Hot off the presses of Hong Kong's Sing Tao Daily

Hanging on for dear life!

Hanging on for dear life!

Looking across Victoria Harbour at Hong Kong island

Looking across Victoria Harbour at Hong Kong island

Michael Fuller writes: We've just arrived in Hong Kong to kick off our Far East Tour with Lorin Maazel. Over the next 10 days we'll be playing here as well as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul, Korea. My wife Lulu (in our first violin section) and I have arrived a couple of days early to enjoy some extra time in this most vibrant of cities before our concert on Saturday. It seems there's certainly been no lack of promotion for this the gate in Heathrow Lulu picked up a copy of the Sing Tao Daily, a major Hong Kong newspaper, and right away spotted a full-page ad for our concert. Then upon arrival we saw another big poster in the Kowloon train station - it's nice to get such a warm welcome from our Hong Kong promoters!

After taking the train into town from the airport, we caught a shuttle bus to our hotel that was driven by a man who seemed to take the narrow Kowloon streets as his personal Formula 1 racecourse! All the more impressive considering the large and ungainly bus that he was saddled behind the wheel of. As I stepped off the bus and said a quiet prayer of gratitude for arriving in one piece, it also struck me that our driver's wild careering captured something about the manic energy of this place. Hong Kong is one the unique cities of the world, one of the places where East and West have met for generations. Although the vast majority of the population is Chinese, you can still feel faint traces of the colonial British influence which, for an Asian city, makes everything a bit more accessible for all of us English-speaking folks from the Philharmonia! It's also one of the most densely me Hong Kong feels like they've taken all the energy of Manhattan, bottled it up and stuffed it into a place about half the size. And when they ran out of space, they just went straight up! This makes for a spectacular skyline set dramatically on Victoria Harbour.

Hong Kong is open for business 24/7, and I love that you can pop out of the hotel at any hour and find some delicious Chinese food in the legions of restaurants, many of which look very unassuming. It's always best to find one filled with locals! It also means just about every square inch has been covered with shops and markets filled with bobbles that attract all tastes from the most humble to the most expensive. Walking through this labyrinth of hyper-capitalism begins to numb the senses after a few hours!

But I digress...Saturday is our first show, and we'll be bringing back some of the big hits from our Mahler cycle of last year. Tomorrow it's going to be Mahler's First Symphony, and I'm looking forward to returning to the beginning of Mahler's symphonies with the whole cycle now under our belts. Stay tuned in for the next installment of our blog featuring rookie blogger Richard from the cello section!

In 2011 Philharmonia bassists Simon Oliver and Mike Fuller took us behind the scenes on this Mahler tour.

10 October 2011

Philharmonia Dress Rehearsal

The Philharmonia's Dress Rehearsal

The premiere of Mahler's 8th

The premiere of Mahler's 8th

Michael Fuller writes: Last night was the final concert in our Mahler cycle with Lorin Maazel, and we finished it in grand fashion, with Mahler's colossal Eighth symphony. It is surely Mahler's most ambitious work, and the promoter for the premiere in 1910 coined the term 'Symphony of a Thousand' due to the massive forces involved- 8 vocal soloists, 2 mixed choirs, 1 children's choir, and an orchestra filled with almost every possible instrument you can imagine. The subject of the symphony is no less bold - divided in two parts, the first is an ecstatic hymn to the divine creative spirit, and the second portrays nothing less than the ascent of Faust's soul into heaven, the text taken from Goethe's famous work.

Needless to say, it was a fitting way to end our Mahler cycle, and the Royal Festival Hall was completely sold-out, which added an extra sense of excitement. On a night like this, there's a special kind of exhilaration you get from being in the orchestra, playing your guts out, and surrounded by the sound of legions of your colleagues doing the same at such a high level. It's really a thrilling experience, and I don't think I've ever found anything else quite like it. It's one of the reasons I love playing music.

Of course the music itself has to be great to have it mean anything, and after performing all 10 symphonies in 29 concerts since April I can say that no composer stands above Mahler right now in my little personal pantheon. His music is also very popular these days among concert-goers throughout the world, and I do occasionally wonder what the particular appeal it has in our times is. For me, beyond the fact that Mahler was a genius composer and musician, there's the persistent sense that he was a seeker, and that through his music he's constantly confronting and asking the deepest questions about his life and life as a totality. It's spiritual music without being tied to any one religion or dogma. Take the Eighth symphony for example - he somehow combines a 9th-century Christian Hymn with the last scene of Faust, the great 19th-century romantic work. Some may disagree, but I find that those two seemingly disparate texts are woven into a very convincing unity through the power of his composing.

After the concert we had a reception in the Festival Hall, and Maestro Maazel said a few words which I will try to paraphrase - he particularly thanked the orchestra and said that one special quality that the Philharmonia has as a group is that there is never a hint of routine music-making, there is always a great commitment to make every concert extraordinary, and that he can really sense our love for the music. I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree, and I think it's that quality that distinguishes this orchestra. It made me move across the world to join them, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it. It's that same quality that Maestro Maazel brings to his performances and why we would leap at the opportunity to do a great undertaking like this with him. So I'd to say a huge thank you to Maestro Maazel and to my colleagues in the Philharmonia for all the constant inspiration throughout this adventure!

Finally, before signing off, I'd like to say thanks to my partner-in-crime for this blog, Simon Oliver for his eloquent and heartfelt words, it was a great pleasure to collaborate on this with you...Cheers!

3 October 2011

Simon Oliver writes: Mahler's Ninth Symphony is not normally linked to feelings of joy and happiness. After our performance on Saturday night however, I found myself very joyful indeed. On cloud nine even. Earlier in the evening on the Royal Festival Hall stage while looking around the orchestra during the performance, I had been profoundly inspired at the commitment shown on each of the Philharmonia's player's faces and the glorious sounds that were filling the hall. Everybody seemed to be playing for their lives.

Playing all of Mahler's symphonies has been a wonderful challenge and an eventful journey for many of us. That journey was encapsulated for me in the last movement of this great symphony. Mahler may have been concerned with death at the time of composing, but to me it was all about life on that stage. It was all about a body of people living and breathing as one and working together to create a performance that had one critic writing, "Following what was quite an experience, the word 'extraordinary' was on my lips quite often".

I will never forget this performance and it will go down as one of the best I've ever played in. As was the case with the Philharmonia, Maestro Maazel pulled on all the energy he had. It was a great partnership. Sharing a stand with me for this experience was the guy who has also been sharing the responsibilities of this blog, Mike Fuller. Thanks Mike for writing your thoughts with me and for all your insights on Mahler and his music. We have one more to go, a performance of his Eighth Symphony on Sunday 9 October. It's sold out I'm afraid, but if you've got tickets, it's going to be a thrilling end to our Mahler cycle and Mike will tell you all about it in his final blog.

Thanks for reading and to all at the Philharmonia, thanks for the journey.

29 September 2011

Michael Fuller writes: After kicking off our London concert season on Sunday, we're ready to dig in to the final concerts of our Mahler cycle with Maestro Maazel. It was good to see the Maestro on the podium again last night in rehearsal after our marathon patch of work this past Spring. We played a rocking Mahler 6 concert in Turin, Italy, in early September, but besides that we haven't worked together since May. So it was great to get back to business with Maestro Maazel and always special to hear the Philharmonia play Mahler's music, even in a first reading!

These concerts are going to be distinctive because they focus on the symphonies that Mahler wrote in the last few years of his life. There's no doubt that Mahler's late style took a different direction from his previous work. There's a very special tone to these pieces, especially the two we play tonight, Das Lied Von der Erde and the unfinished 10th Symphony. The diagnosis in 1907 of a grave heart condition and the death of his eldest daughter definitely had Mahler preoccupied with the reality of death and the idea of an ultimate farewell to the world. He wrote 'Das Lied' in that summer of 1907 and said it was "probably the most personal [composition] I have created thus far." Also, his wife Alma said that Mahler didn't dare call Das Lied Von der Erde a symphony because he was extremely superstitious that "no great symphonic writer was to live beyond his Ninth" (both Beethoven and Bruckner didn't make it past their Ninth symphony). But a symphony it is, in breadth and scope if not in name, and I think it represents a turning point for Mahler to the world he inhabits in his final works. And as for the Tenth Symphony, sure enough Mahler only fully completed the first movement before his death in 1911, and that's what we'll play in the first half of the programme tonight. It's a transcendent piece of music, and you almost get the feeling that he is already rising above everything in this world as he penned his last notes.


The final part of our Mahler series takes place in September.

29 May 2011

Station Chaos

View from inside the Sage Gateshead

View from inside the Sage Gateshead

Michael Fuller writes: This weekend we travelled into the north country for the final two concerts in this first part of our Mahler cycle with Maestro Maazel. It has all gone by so quickly, yet our concert in Manchester seems like such a long time ago! In the seven weeks since our first rehearsal we've performed 7 symphonies in 25 concerts in 16 cities across the UK, Germany, France and Luxembourg.

Our concerts in Gateshead and Hull were not without incident... Upon arrival at King's Cross station on Saturday morning I thought it seemed unusually crowded in the main hall. We had booked a direct train up to Newcastle that would arrive mid-afternoon in plenty of time for a short rehearsal and then the concert. As I got my ticket I heard the announcement: "Due to overhead damage all East Coast trains to the following destinations will be cancelled..." Oh boy, here we go, I thought to myself. We quickly spotted some fellow Philharmonians in the station, and together headed across the street to St Pancras, where our tickets would be accepted on an alternate route. St Pancras station was slammed with people as well, and we found ourselves pressed up against the ticket gates as we waited for a platform announcement for the train we were hoping to catch. Amazing how one train line going down can cause utter chaos on the whole system! After fighting through crowds we finally managed to get on a train But instead of the direct train to Newcastle which would take about 3 hours, our merry (and sometimes not-so-merry) band of travellers made our way from London to Sheffield, then to Doncaster, then finally to Newcastle arriving at about 6:40pm, about 8 hours after leaving home. We were lucky even to get seats as all of the trains were completely jammed with people standing in the aisles the whole way.

It was a relief to get The Sage, the beautiful concert hall in Gateshead overlooking the Tyne River, and miraculously every member of the orchestra had made it (either by hopping from train to train or by driving)! I have to say, even after all that travel madness, I still enjoyed playing Mahler's Fifth, and the Orchestra sounded as great as ever! The next day we made our way to Hull, which was thankfully a smooth and uneventful journey, and did our final show in this patch, with an encore performance of Mahler 5.

What a tremendous journey this has been, both musically and physically, and it's still not over! We'll be back in October to continue this monumental series of concerts. I can say now from the comfort of my sofa at home that I am both exhausted and fulfilled. It's been such a massive effort on everyone's part to make this all happen, so I want to give a huge thanks to all in the Philharmonia office and the staff that travels with us and makes sure our instruments, music and anything else we might need gets there before we do! And of course to Maestro Maazel, who has led the way with his insight into Mahler's music, and his command of the Orchestra. It is truly a privilege to play this music with one of the great conductors of our time, and this Mahler cycle will go down for me as one of my greatest musical experiences.

27 May 2011

Simon Oliver writes: The last concert on our tour of Europe was a triumph. It was one of the best performances of Mahler's Fifth Symphony I've done. Everything seemed to be right. The concert hall in Essen had a wonderful acoustic and it was full to the rafters! The orchestra had a free afternoon so was well rested, and it was the last performance of the tour which gave it a true sense of occasion. The result was a performance that deserved it's unanimous standing ovation and resulted in Maestro Maazel turning to the Philharmonia with a huge smile and applauding our efforts for himself!

Last night saw the return of the orchestra to its home, the Royal Festival Hall. On returning to London and having been around so many European cities for the past week or so, it dawned on me again how amazing the cultural life here is! It's astonishing just how much choice we have and how hard people work to make it all happen. The Philharmonia office staff work tirelessly to produce all of our concerts and we as players give everything we have so a live musical experience can be a great one. Again we achieved this with our performance of Mahler's Seventh Symphony last night, as the concert received yet another standing ovation.

As I explained in my 16th May blog, the first encounter I had with this work was a strange one and to be honest, I thought it my least favourite symphony. So it was great to be able to come back to the work after a period of time, experience it again and perhaps re-evaluate it.

I had a small break from symphonic music back at my home in Peckham, as I've been listening to the chilled out sounds of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. So my ears had been soothed and smoothed, ready and prepared for this massive symphony! Last night I experienced a great performance of what I understand now to be a great work. It felt utterly new to me and I was carried away with all that Mahler was saying through his genius writing. He brings out so many contrasting emotions that one can only imagine what he was really like as a man.

Maestro Maazel was born only twenty years after Mahler's death. It is a momentous achievement for him and the Philharmonia to perform all of these great works in such a short period of time. I'm very proud of being a part of it and I would like to think that Mahler would have been very satisfied with the results so far achieved.

23 May 2011


Michael Fuller writes: Today is the final day of our German tour...over the weekend we've been crisscrossing up and down the country, going from Stuttgart to Bremen to Mannheim and finally to Essen. Those who have a knowledge of German geography will realize that these cities are all in very different parts of the country! Planning tours like this is extremely complicated logistically, and trying to coordinate the schedules of orchestra, conductor, soloists and venues is a tricky business. In a relatively small country like Germany, all these places are only a few hours apart, so they can easily be reached in a day's travel.

I've discovered that every tour has a certain arc to it, and it does seem like people are starting to feel a little burnt out. The succession of trains, coaches, hotels and concert halls begins to become a blur. Each day has its ups and downs as well, more than when you're at home. I have to say, at the concert in Bremen I hit a low point. I was feeling energetic before the show, but as we took the stage for Mahler 1 and I realized just how cramped the stage was going to be, my mood started to drop. I knew that I was going to be in for a loud evening. It was also very hot onstage, as it has been for many of these concerts. I tried putting up an acoustic screen, but Simon and Matt pointed out to me that it would be too low to offer any aural protection anyways! That combined with my general tired state and a backstage area that was difficult to manoeuvre in got me in a properly foul mood.

The funny thing is, that performance went really well! When the audience rose to give a standing ovation I realized that I had just been sulking in my own little world and it really didn't have any relation to what was going on around me. It's probably good to be reminded that the success of a performance doesn't have all that much to do with how I'm personally feeling. The important thing is to play the music as well as you possibly can, after that it's for the audience to experience. After the concert I joined my buddies in the bass section for a beer in the town square by the concert hall. It was a beautiful spring evening and there was no better therapy than to sit outside with good friends and have a laugh about all that had transpired during the day. Their positive energy and sense of humour always makes the tough parts of this gig so much easier...cheers to you, bass guys!

19 May 2011

Hey, that's us!

Hey, that's us!

Michael Fuller writes: Last night we performed Mahler's First Symphony in Bonn to a packed audience at the Beethovenhalle. The concert was being filmed for later broadcast on German TV, so there were cameramen and crew members crawling all over the place! It was also a special occasion because yesterday it was the hundredth anniversary of Mahler's death. While counting bars of rests during the concert I found myself thinking about how profoundly the world has changed since he died...and yet his music is more popular than ever (note the copious amount of Mahler performances around the world this year). What a testament to his genius that his music would affect people so deeply in our modern age, even more than in his own times. Fortunately I snapped out of my reverie in time not to miss the next entrance!

It's also been really interesting to come back to Mahler's First Symphony after a month of playing so many of his other works. I feel like I'm hearing it with different ears now, and it's fascinating to see how his symphonic language changed and evolved over the course of his life. With the first seven symphonies, we've covered his early and middle periods of writing, and in the fall we'll be playing his great final works.

Today we're on the road to Frankfurt, a relatively short 2 1/2 hour coach journey after a merciful 11:00am start. The weather is sunny and warm, perfect for a stroll through town and a leisurely lunch before tonight's rehearsal and concert at the Alte Oper.

18 May 2011

Simon Oliver writes: It was a fairly small stage last night. The concert hall in Hamburg is a beautiful one, but not that spacious for us basses. The positioning of some instruments in a symphony orchestra is a topic much discussed at the moment. What can prove to be difficult on some occasions, is to find yourself up really close to loud instruments in such massive works, such as last night's Mahler Symphony No 5.

Out in the audience you get a very different acoustical result to that which many of us experience on stage. Sometimes I can't even hear when or what I'm playing, especially when the orchestra reaches a loud passage and all the brasses are going for it like crazy horses!

Many options are discussed such as who goes where, the use of sound screens, earplugs and the distance between each player. Last night I was right in front of 5 trumpets, I couldn't get any closer to them if I tried. It was as If I had them growing out of my ears!

But you know what, It was truly amazing! When they got to a triumphant passage, It covered me in a such a sound world that I had never really experienced before. Total immersion in crystal clear, golden trumpet chords. It was like being in a cave full of fanfares, a surround sound that no set of speakers could ever reproduce and an IMAX 3D movie could never hope to match!

Being close to different instruments in different halls also brings out parts of Mahler's writing that have sometimes escaped me. Small details are revealed, a trumpet passage here, a tuba run there. It makes me appreciate Mahler's compositions more and more, and his genius for brass writing exploded on me last night!

The performance turned out to be a brilliant experience! But such a close one perhaps should only be enjoyed every once and a while. I loved it, but if my ears could talk, they would probably be asking for a quiet weekend away in the country!

17 May 2011

Lulu satisfies her Vapiano craving

Lulu satisfies her Vapiano craving

Michael Fuller writes: It was so good to come back home to London on Sunday night and have a day to recharge before heading off on tour again. But all those nice feelings evaporated when my alarm went off at 4:30 this morning and I realized how long it would be before we have another day off!

We were on the tube by 6:00am for the long, bleary-eyed trip across town to Heathrow. It's good to see all my friends in the orchestra again upon arrival at the airport and trade stories about our free day. ou'll all be pleased to know that Simon has purchased a lovely garden Gnome for his lovely garden! After shuffling on to a comfortable Lufthansa Airbus A320, and having some muesli and tea, I'm feeling re-energized and ready to start blogging!

First stop on our German odyssey is Hamburg, and we'll be playing Mahler's Fifth again along with the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto featuring soloist Janine Jansen. For me, Germany means three things, generally excellent concert halls, Schweinhaxe (the famous German pork knuckle), and great Hefeweizen beer! My wife is insisting that we break up all the carnivorous activity with some trips to Vapiano, the tasty Italian chain that you seem to find in every German city. That sounds like a good plan, and certainly my arteries will thank me!

I've been to Hamburg for brief visits on tours in the past, and this will be no exception. I imagine the only chance for sight-seeing will be if I decide to walk to the concert hall instead of catching the orchestra coach. We'll see how the afternoon nap goes, which

16 May 2011

Cheers to Mahler and to friends

Cheers to Mahler and to friends

Simon Oliver writes: We have just got back from Paris! The first part of the trip has been a great success all round and we now have one day to rest before we fly out to Germany on Tuesday. Paris was lovely but, my word, really expensive! I had an apple juice in a cafe not far from the concert hall and it cost me 9 euros! What's that about?

I had a strange experience with the performance of Mahler's Seventh Symphony on Saturday night which I would like to share. The orchestra played brilliantly but you know what for one night, Mahler pretty much just got to me!

The concentration you need for a Mahler symphony is so intense, I think I experienced a certain type of Mahler overload. Playing all his symphonies in such a short space of time and giving so much of yourself is really exhausting. The Seventh Symphony is such a long one and after the performance I almost needed to put my soul out to dry, that's the only way I can describe it. I felt I needed a sort of Mahler holiday, a time when my musical life was not so consistently massive!

But, as you can see from the photo, after an intense concert the best thing to do is to get a group of friends together and have some serious chill out time. You quickly get your strength back and the next day you can give your Parisienne audience an amazing performance of his Fifth Symphony, and that's just what we did!

So now I'm back home and I can reflect on what an amazing experience all this really is. You have to take time to recover from your efforts though, and you most certainly need time to recover from the price of an apple juice in Paris!

13 May 2011

Cathedral de Notre Dame

Cathedral de Notre Dame

Michael Fuller writes: Next stop on our tour is Paris, so this morning we're taking the train from Luxembourg after a nice two-day stint here. Having more than one day in any city is a luxury for the Philharmonia on tour and three days in Paris is even better! What's more typical is what we'll doing in Germany next week, which is seven concerts in seven days in seven different cities. But no need to think about that now! In Paris we've got three great programs ahead of us in the famous Théatre des Champs-Elysées which is a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower. It's a theatre steeped in history where the scandalous première of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring took place. We'll be playing Mahler's Sixth, Seventh and Fifth symphonies on successive nights.

After the performance of the Seventh on Saturday we'll have done Symphonies 1-7 in the last month. It's been an amazing journey so far, and there's much more still to come. It's times like this, playing some of the greatest music ever written at such a high level, that I really feel lucky to be able to do this for a living. It's the payoff for all of those years toiling in the practice room, hoping that some day you will win a job in a great orchestra. Getting to go to places like Paris as part of your work is also a bonus! I'm looking forward to exploring the city in our free time this weekend, hoping to discover a great brasserie, take in some masterpieces at the Musée d'Orsay or maybe revisit some of my favourite churches like Notre Dame Cathedral or the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre.

12 May 2011

The bass section at lunch in Luxembourg

The bass section at lunch in Luxembourg

Simon Oliver writes: It's very early in the morning. To be honest, it's 2:40am! A couple of hours ago we ended our first concert on this tour and I'm pleased to report it went really well. Nothing is more satisfying for us than ending a concert with an audience giving a standing ovation and this is exactly how they responded to our performance of Mahler's Sixth Symphony tonight.

It is amazing that I'm lying in bed writing this blog so late, but I do not feel the slightest bit sleepy! The performance, coupled with being surrounded by your friends in the orchestra, makes that first night of a tour a special one.

Earlier on it was quite a bumpy approach into the landing at Luxembourg airport but we got down in the end! Also my hotel room wasn't ready when we arrived, but now that I'm in, it's a comfortable one.

We're doing one more concert here in Luxembourg and so no travelling today, which is great! Tomorrow's rehearsal has been put forward to 11am which gives me more time in the morning to gaze up at the hotel ceiling. After the rehearsal it's down to the old town for a bit of a wander around as lunch becomes the new objective of the day!

For now however, I'm going to try and persuade my eyes that it really is time to sleep!

Nighty, night!

11 May 2011

Disembarking at the very calm airport in Luxembourg, slightly different from London!

Disembarking at the very calm airport in Luxembourg, slightly different from London!

Michael Fuller writes: We're off on tour today, so that means up at 6:30, catching the train from London Bridge station down to Gatwick Airport for a charter flight to Luxembourg. After grabbing a double sausage McMuffin in a slightly guilt-ridden homage to my American roots, it's a short flight to the Continent (fortunately for my legs). Then we'll have a little time this afternoon for lunch and maybe a quick nap. After that it's a short walk to the hall for a touch-up rehearsal before we return to Mahler's Sixth, in a repeat of our UK concerts from a couple weeks ago.

All this makes for a long day, and we have to be most concentrated at the end of it, to bring our best to the concert. Well, the concert isn't quite the end of the day because there will certainly be drinks after!

The adage 'work hard, play hard' definitely applies to the Philharmonia on tour. I'm always amazed at how the orchestra can bring high energy and intense concentration to demanding programs like tonight's, no matter how far we've travelled and how little sleep we've gotten. Like Simon said in his last post, tour means late nights and early mornings. The thing is, after playing a crazy piece like Mahler's Sixth, going straight to bed is out of the question!

I also like how the vibe in the orchestra changes when we tour. In London, everybody is running in a thousand different directions, balancing family, teaching and possibly other work along with the Philharmonia's busy schedule. On tour, we are together 24/7 and that's when you really get to know your colleagues. There's no question it makes us better as a group, going through all these adventures together. Stay tuned in to our blog, we'll keep you posted every step of the way!

9 May 2011

Joe and Jeremy prepare for Mahler 3

Joe and Jeremy prepare for Mahler 3

Simon Oliver writes: Last night we performed Mahler's Symphony No. 3. Being the only work in the programme, the performance started at around 7.30pm and ended at 9.30pm, with no interval! What a phenomenal work it is and all the forces involved, Maestro Maazel, the Philharmonia, the mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys Choir, gave a monumental performance! I felt very privileged to be a part of it.

I have a hard time believing that Maazel is really 81 years of age! But I have no trouble in imagining him leading us through mighty performances of this work even when he is ninety one! He will no doubt be standing up on that rostrum, full of energy and insight for the entire one hundred plus minutes it takes! Some critics have pointed out that now and again he holds the rostrum bar; wouldn't you at eighty one? If I could conduct, I'd probably have to do the whole concert sitting down at 51!

We now start touring Europe. It is one of the privileges you get when working with the Philharmonia, travelling to cities across the world, playing in some great concert halls and experiencing different cultures, food and lifestyles. Mike and I will be blogging and sharing our time away from London with you. It's not all glamour mind; plenty of long journeys ahead, early mornings, late nights and hard work.

The Philharmonia is a wonderful musical ambassador for London and indeed all of the UK. We will be visiting Luxembourg, Paris, Hamburg, Bonn, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Bremen, Mannheim, Essen. You can be certain we will give all our audiences a night to remember.

I can't decide which city I'm looking forward to the most; all of them have different things to offer and explore. However, I do love Paris in the springtime and unfortunately for those within earshot, I feel a song coming on!

6 May 2011

Michael Fuller writes: When I got home from playing Mahler's Fifth last night in the Royal Festival Hall, I was still charged with energy after playing this incredible music. I thought there was a lot of spontaneity that Maestro Maazel brought to the performance tonight, taking time in certain places that he hadn't done before. There were some spots in the third movement where he got the strings to play with a quietness that was almost spooky. It was like we stepped out of time in those split-seconds while everyone focused in to get the next downbeat. But even as you're watching, your ears have to be open to everything that's happening around you. It's really magical to have these moments when 100-plus people are all completely concentrating together. It's even more exciting when it has that spontaneous element, when it goes a little outside of the way things have been rehearsed. Of course that can also be dangerous!

Playing these concerts with Maestro Maazel has been really interesting to see how he always brings something extra to the performance. With some conductors, you'll find that they basically rehearse a piece the same way they will perform it, with the idea being that a performance would be like a really well-played rehearsal, done without stopping and in front of an audience. With Maazel the process is a bit different. In the rehearsals he's giving us the basic outline of what he's going to do, the skeleton of his interpretation. It's almost as if he temporarily takes all the emotion out of it. He's just taking care of the business of showing how he's going to conduct this part or that. But what's really amazing is that in the performance he brings the emotion back in, and also he'll do some things that are spontaneous. We can respond to this right away because we have a clear sense of the overall picture of his interpretation. Of course it helps that Maazel has such a commanding technique, so we can easily read his gestures and react quickly to some nuance that he's added in the moment of performance.

4 May 2011

The Philharmonia van outside Butterworth Hall

The Philharmonia van outside Butterworth Hall

Simon Oliver writes: Today we are performing Mahler's Fifth Symphony in the newly-refurbished Butterworth Hall at the Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry. For the Philharmonia it's very important we travel around the country, bringing our world-class conductors to people who can't get to hear us at the Royal Festival Hall. We have residencies in Basingstoke, Bedford, Leicester and, from November this year, Canterbury. We also often perform in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Southend and many other places around the UK.

I will always remember my Dad taking me to my first classical concert at the Royal Festival Hall way back in 1982 when I was fourteen years old. It is very strange to recollect that the orchestra we went to hear was indeed the Philharmonia! We lived in a place called New Milton in Hampshire and it was a three hour trip to London on the train. I loved the concert, it had a profound effect on me and inspired my choice of career. But the journey back was horrendous, we missed the last connecting train at Southampton and we had to sleep in a cold station waiting room until a mail train could take us back home very early the next morning! Dad was not pleased, but he handled it with his usual grace. Imagine then if that performance could have come to us!

Travelling to towns and cities outside of London enables us to bring so many great performances to people young and old who would not normally experience a live symphonic concert. For this reason, I am immensely proud to be in an orchestra that performs all over the country. If the Philharmonia had travelled as much back in 1982, who knows, my father could have had a decent night's sleep!

I will always be grateful he took me to London however. It's because of that cold, uncomfortable November night that I'm now in one of the world's great orchestras.

3 May 2011

Michael Fuller writes: In the last week we made a huge shift from the dark psychological landscape of the Sixth Symphony to the child-like naiveté of the Fourth. There's such a strong contrast between those two pieces, but what's amazing is that they are both completely Mahler. His voice comes through so clearly in both symphonies, even though the content is worlds apart. I guess that's one of the marks of a great composer, though: the ability to express many different aspects of life, no matter how far apart they may be. Mahler was a master of that, weaving all the craziness and contradictions into a cohesive whole.

Now we turn to the Fifth Symphony, which is maybe his most popular, and arguably his most heroic, work. What I mean by heroic is that it takes us from the 'Sturm und Drang' of the first two movements on an incredible journey to the last movement, which is one of the most jubilant, life-affirming finales in all the repertoire. It's also heroic in the sense that it has some of his most virtuosic writing for the various instruments of the orchestra. Mahler himself was very aware of this, and he said regarding the Fifth, "The individual parts are so difficult that they require players of solo ability. With my thorough knowledge of the orchestra and instruments I couldn't help including some very daring passages and figures."

As I'm writing this, my wife Lulu (who's in the First Violin section) is practicing the Scherzo, and I have to agree, that's a wicked violin part! We basses have our work cut out for us, too. But that's nothing compared to the First Trumpet and French Horn, who have massive solos to contend with.

It's always a great challenge to bring Mahler's Fifth to life. We'll be giving it our all in Warwick on Wednesday, and at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday night... hope to see you there!

27 April 2011

Gareth with his Bass

Gareth with his Bass

Simon Oliver writes: We are on the road again, this time it's off to Bristol playing Mahler Symphony No. 4 at Colston Hall. In the car for the journey, again driven by Matt Gibson (thanks Matt!), is bass player Gareth Sheppard who joined the Philharmonia back in 2009. I thought I'd ask him a few questions on how he is finding his new life in the Orchestra.....

How did it feel to be in the orchestra when you first joined?
"Coming from out of the London scene, I was a bit worried that people would think I did not belong. But I was soon put at ease as everyone was so friendly. The whole ethos of playing great music together soon made me relax and I felt part of a great team."

You came down to London after studying in Manchester?
"Yes. It was a big move for me. I found it quite stressful packing my life into the car and driving down for the first time and I actually slept a few nights on some friends' floors! But it wasn't such a big move if you compare it to fellow bass player Mike Fuller. He came all the way over from America to join the orchestra!"

Can you remember what you played at your first rehearsal?
"It was Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 with Sir Charles Mackerras, sadly no longer with us. I remember being very nervous, as I had not seen anyone since my trial. I thought that people would see me and think, 'Oh no, not you!'. But I felt very much at home after only a few minutes."

A highlight so far?
"Definitely touring Tristan und Isolde with Esa-Pekka Salonen! The whole experience was awesome and I never thought I would be doing things like taking a speed boat out on Lake Lucerne during a break in a rehearsal."

How has your family taken to your job with the Philharmonia?
'"My Mum and Dad came to the performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in London. My Dad was one of the first to get to his feet for the standing ovation at the end! He played the horn when he was younger and he thought our Principal Horn, Nigel Black, was just amazing."

Other talents?
"I used to be in a punk band and we played gigs in various pubs in Wales where I'm from. After taking singing lessons at university, I sang in various choirs and then landed the role of Figaro in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, which I loved doing. Now, whenever we are on tour, you can find me sometimes entertaining the bass section at a Karaoke bar with my tribute show to Tom Jones!"

So on we drive to Bristol. Its just a shame we have no Karaoke machine in the car. I'm sure that this could be arranged for the next time, then it's Delilah all the way!

21 April 2011

Mike Fuller writes: Today we hopped on the train down to Basingstoke, one of our UK residencies, for a repeat performance of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. I really enjoyed tonight's performance, and I thought we played with even more abandon than we did on Tuesday in the Royal Festival Hall. One of the reviews from that concert said that in the final movement "the orchestra produced a sound of almost demented intensity". I think that's exactly the right character for some parts of Mahler 6, so I'm glad that came across. But our performance last night also had a very settled, cohesive feeling to it.

I think that's one of the most fascinating things about playing music, is this combination of passion and control that any great performance needs. In order to bring the notes on the page to life, you need to be involved in the emotions of the music and at the same time be calm enough to play all the notes in a relaxed way, so that the sound you make isn't tense or tight. That's a tall order, especially with the added pressure of a live performance or a recording! But that's one of the endless challenges of making music that keeps it so interesting. Last night in Basingstoke, I felt like we got very close to that ideal, and that makes for a very satisfying concert!

Well, Easter weekend is upon us, and it's time for a well-deserved rest for all involved with the Philharmonia's Mahler cycle. Best wishes to all of you out there in the blogosphere over this holiday weekend, and especially to Simon's cat Pip, who has made his journey into the great beyond. We'll be back in action next week to explore the lighter side of Mahler!

20 April 2011

The Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House

As you can see, tastes have changed

As you can see, tastes have changed...

Simon Oliver writes: What a couple of days it's been!

Two really charged performances in a very short space of time. I am always amazed at the energy and emotion the Philharmonia create on stage during a concert and Tuesday night's Sixth Symphony was no exception!

I want to share this with you:
Six years ago, a skinny and very lost cat turned up on my doorstep. I opened my front door to him; he looked at me, looked at the open doorway, and walked into my life. He became my pal for six years. Over the last few months, after first becoming blind, he became ill. I knew it was nearly his time, so just before I left for work on Sunday morning, I carried him to his favourite spot under a tree in my garden. After rehearsing Mahler's Second Symphony, I came back home to find he had passed away. He had reached a grand old age of 19! His photo on here is my small tribute to an amazing cat called Pip!

So, today was a day off and I went to meet a friend in Covent Garden for a drink. He works at the Royal Opera House and this, along with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, happens to be the theatre where Mahler conducted on his only trip to London in 1892. There was to be a short season of German opera at Covent Garden during June and July of that year. It was a Wagner Ring cycle with one performance of each opera on four consecutive Wednesdays, plus a performance of Tristan und Isolde and Fidelio. Phew, that's a lot of opera!

During his time in London, Mahler stayed at two addresses that sadly no longer exist as the area is now the campus for University College. These were 69 Torrington Square and 22 Alfred Place.

I had a great evening catching up with my friend. As it drew to a close, I wondered around Covent Garden and thought of Mahler doing just the same back in 1892. I also thought of Pip.

19 April 2011

Mike Fuller writes: It's the hottest day of the year so far in London, brilliant sunshine, bright blue skies, just a perfect day. What could be better then playing Mahler's Sixth Symphony, possibly his darkest, most tortured work! Ok, so maybe the weather and today's concert isn't a perfect match, but once the concert starts, we're hoping to create the right atmosphere so the audience can take in this powerful piece. It's interesting that Simon mentioned how familiar this work is to him... for me, this is the one Mahler symphony that I haven't performed before. Christian, one of my colleagues in the bass section, advised me that the best way to warm up for the last movement would be to lift weights for about an hour! After pounding on my bass for about 80 minutes tonight, I think I should have taken his advice!

This music has a relentless drive to it, all the way from the brutal march rhythms of the first movement to the final blows of the fourth movement that crush Mahler's hero. With the Sixth, Mahler has turned the romantic ideal of the hero on its head. That's one of the things that I like so much about his music though, is Mahler's willingness to look unflinchingly at the dark side of life and human nature. We repeat this program on Thursday in Basingstoke, and then revisit it in May on tour in Luxembourg and Paris.

19 April 2011

Simon Oliver writes: Tonight,it's the Sixth Symphony.

After a mind-blowing 'Resurrection' Symphony, I was reflecting on how these works must have sounded at their first rehearsal, especially the Sixth, as it has a prominent part for cow bells of all things! It's hard for me to think back and remember how a symphony that is now so familiar to me sounded many years ago when I first experienced it. This got me thinking about Mahler rehearsing this symphony for the first time and how his orchestra reacted to his music and to him.

I found this quote on the Sixth Symphony's first rehearsal, conducted by the composer:

'During one of the rehearsals for the last movement he stopped the orchestra and called out to the trumpets, 'Can't you play that louder?' In the empty hall it already sounded like an unbridled din; were the trumpets to be even louder? He stopped a second time and turned to the trumpets again, this time with a gesture of the left hand whose commanding force was irresistible: 'Can you not play that even louder?!' They played louder still, now drowning the whole orchestra, and what had previously sounded like mere noise now took on the musical meaning which the noise had concealed.'

I can honestly say to you that Maestro Maazel has this same commanding force at the helm of the Philharmonia.

Tonight's performance will have even louder trumpets and some hammer blows that will knock you off your Royal Festival Hall seat!

18 April 2011

The Fuller family celebrating after the concert

The Fuller family celebrating after the concert

Mike Fuller writes: I agree wholeheartedly with your last post, Simon. The more I gain experience, I realise that there is something in me that 'knows' when we've done a great performance. It's some combination of my mind judging what is happening as we play (such as whether a particular passage was in tune or together) and also my emotional response to the music that's all around me. Now of course that's a subjective experience, another person can have a completely different response to the same music. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm learning to trust that sense, and for me our first Mahler concerts absolutely had that special energy. As far as the critics go, of course it's always nice to get a good review, especially if you feel it's warranted. I, too, was shocked at the one particularly negative review we got. It went beyond a respectful criticism of the performance and was almost hateful in its tone.

So, one Mahler symphony down, 9 to go...on Saturday we started rehearsing Mahler's Second Symphony, 'The Resurrection'. We've had a couple of days off from Mahler, but the Philharmonia never rests - we've been at Air Studios doing recording sessions, and also playing for the Allianz Conductors' Academy on Friday at the Royal College of Music. This was a chance for three young conductors to read through some pieces with the orchestra, and be critiqued by Maestro Maazel. A great (and possibly scary!) opportunity for them, and also really interesting for the orchestra. It was a rare chance to hear Maazel talk about the nuts and bolts of his craft, of which he holds an undisputed technical mastery.

But back to Mahler...his Second Symphony is one of my personal favourites, and represents a massive leap in scale and scope from his First, great as it is. For the Second, Mahler employs not only a massive orchestra, but chorus and soloists as well. Also programmatically, if the first symphony deals with an individual's struggle to transcend suffering, the second deals with the fundamental questions of life's meaning, death, and possible life after death. When the great conductor Hans von Bülow heard the first movement, he declared that Wagner's Tristan was a Haydn symphony compared to this piece! Big words from the guy who conducted the first performances of Tristan!

Sunday night, it's time for the show, and a sold-out Royal Festival Hall is packed to the rafters... it's also a special night for me, my parents have flown in all the way from San Francisco to catch this concert and spend a week with us in London. What better way to show them what our life here is all about! As the concert ends and we take our bows, I try to let it all sink in... so many inspiring moments from my colleagues tonight. I could go on and on but words really fail at some point. Maazel's Mahler 2 is on the grandest of scales, and this was a truly epic reading. I'm grateful to be a part of it.

15 April 2011

Simon Oliver writes: After reading some critics' responses after our performances of Mahler's First Symphony this week, it reminds me how personal a live concert can be. The result, one reviewer gives a performance a five-star rating and another has the opposite opinion! Fair enough, but what bothers me is the inaccuracies. For the concert on Tuesday, one reviewer stated that two of our principal players, Mark Van De Wiel, Principal Clarinet, and Christian Geldsetzer, Co-Principal Double Bass, were guests of the orchestra and not members. That kind of thing just winds me up, especially as they both played so brilliantly!

The performance and audience reaction on Tuesday night at the Royal Festival Hall was one of the most rewarding I've experienced in my time at the Philharmonia, and that has been after nearly twenty years of fantastic music making with world-class conductors.

To be received by an audience with cheers and standing ovations after giving your all, as has happened in both Manchester and London this week, is a fantastic reward. To read some critics' indifference, and even hostility, to the same shared musical experience is, to me, baffling.

13 April 2011

Yesterdays dress rehearsal at the Royal Festival Hall

Yesterdays dress rehearsal at the Royal Festival Hall

Mike Fuller writes: Before the concert I walk down to the Festival Hall lobby and there is a special buzz in the air. The terrace is packed with people enjoying the sun and a fantastic view of the Thames, anticipating the first London concert of the Philharmonia's Mahler cycle. Backstage the orchestra is focused- every concert is important, but tonight you can really sense that everyone wants to bring their absolute best to the performance.

First on the program is the Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen, or "Songs of a Wayfarer", as it is known in English. American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung does a beautiful rendition of these youthful songs of unrequited love, and the orchestra is with her every step of the way under Maestro Maazel's measured and sure beat.

The Symphony follows, and it is clear that any pre-concert nerves have been channelled into a magnificent account of Mahler's First. Every section of the orchestra has risen to the occasion. Maazel is able to guide the music from the ethereal opening of the first movement to the thundering coda of the finale in a way that makes a tremendous impact on the audience, and they erupt into a great ovation after the last notes.

Now it's off to the Archduke Bar for a post-concert drink!

12 April 2011

Simon deep in meditation before last night's performance

Simon deep in meditation before last night's performance

Pre-concert strength building meal

Pre-concert strength building meal.

Simon Oliver writes: What an opening concert!

In Manchester last night, after a hearty meal (with one of the biggest nan breads I've ever seen), we were all geared up to give the audience a thrilling performance. When the last movement came, and all the Philharmonia horns rose to their feet at the climax, nothing could stop us! The performance got them standing on their feet and roaring their approval.

We got back to London at around 1:30am and now have a day to recover before a second performance at the Festival Hall. Let's see if we can give our home audience even more tonight!

We received some nice press this morning for last nights performance. There are also a couple of interviews with Maestro Maazel you can read/listen to online, with the Manchester Evening News and for Classic FM.

11 April 2011

Joe Melvin, Lulu Fuller, Mike Fuller

Joe Melvin, Lulu Fuller, Mike Fuller

Simon Oliver writes: Last night we had our first rehearsal with Maestro Lorin Maazel and it showed just how great this Mahler symphony cycle is going to be! Instant connection between the maestro and the orchestra with some great music making from the opening bars. He is very clear and precise in what he wants and is a superb communicator.

We are currently driving up to Manchester from London for our first concert. A five hour drive which fellow bass player Matt Gibson has bravely agreed to undertake.Five of us are in the car,four bass players (large),and a violinist (petite!) and so far we are still friends!

Tonight's concert includes the First Symphony and the Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen and we are looking forward to a great evening. This is a fascinating pairing of pieces because Mahler used material from the song cycle in the first and third movements of the symphony. 'The Titan' symphony as it is known, with its triumphant finale, is sure to bring the house down, and we want to achieve the same results at the Festival Hall in London on Tuesday. We will keep you posted...or even better, join us!