Last night, Elim Chan was one of four conductors leading the Philharmonia in a celebration of 50 years of artists’ agency HarrisonParrott. Here’s what she had to say about the music, and what she enjoys about working with the Philharmonia.
I made my Philharmonia debut with this piece in 2017 – it was a cancellation and it was miraculous that I could step in. The orchestra played it so wonderfully and it opened up my relationship with them, so there is no better choice of repertoire for me to conduct them in celebrating HP’s anniversary.
The overture suggests the story of Romeo and Juliet, and lets you imagine what happens to the lovers. In less than 20 minutes you get both the angst and the passion of Shakespeare’s play. You know from the very beginning that the story is going to be dark –there’s so much anguish, even in the beautiful, yearning themes on the high instruments in the very opening. We immediately know that Romeo and Juliet may attain love, but they won’t be able to keep it.
We hear the struggle between the two families – two forces wrestling. In the middle there is the glorious melody that stays with you after hearing it just once – an intimate and passionate celebration of their love. It doesn’t last long because the struggle returns. At the end we know the lovers can’t be together on earth, but Tchaikovsky’s ending brings them together in death.
They say that conducting a great orchestra is like driving a Ferrari race car, and that’s the case with the Philharmonia. The players read every single little gesture you make. You give them the inspiration and they take it. If you work on one thing, they apply that to similar places – there’s never any struggle.
I’ve conducted the orchestra twice now and the experiences have been such a pleasure. I find I can be myself, which is rare – I can be in my own skin without needing to impress them. I can tell them how I hear the music and they just go for it. They are efficient and free at the same time, and so open – once you’re honest and show yourself to them, they come with you. They are kind, classy and fast and I felt the chemistry when I first stood in front of them.
The other three conductors have such special relationships with the orchestra, and I feel so honoured to be invited to conduct tonight, and to experience how the orchestra is with each of them. It will be my first time seeing Vladimir Ashkenazy live and I will watch the rehearsals and sneak into the audience if I can, and become a fan girl. His performances of Russian repertoire with the Philharmonia are benchmarks, so when I see him performing live, I can check that off my bucket list.
Elim Chan returns to conduct the Philharmonia on Thursday 24 October 2019 at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, performing works by Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Britten.