Live Music

English: Portrait painting of John Henry Newman

English: Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berli...

English: Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) in Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner Deutsch: Sir Simon Rattle dirigiert die Berliner Philharmoniker (BPO) in Das Rheingold von Richard Wagner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As someone with a significant CD collection (and even a few downloads to show that modernity does not pass me by) who has got, and still gets huge pleasure from them, I am finding that almost every “Live” concert I go to is giving as much – or often greater – pleasure than most CDs. The revelation to me has been that even if the performance has not been particularly good or inspiring, I still get things out of the concert that one doesn’t get from listening to a CD.

A Live Concert forces you to concentrate. The performance or balance or audience, even if sub-optimal, forces you to engage your mind and emotions. When a performance is particularly good, because you are catching it on the wing, there is something magical or awe inspiring about it. I have just come back from the St Endellion Easter Festival. Hearing the Endellion quartet live – despite being, I felt slightly below par – was a treat. Gerontius, with a mixture of amateurs and professionals, despite a couple of the soloists clearly fighting the flu, did not diminish the visceral thrill of hearing Elgar’s masterpiece in the flesh. Before going on holiday I went to a not-very-good piano recital in London. Although underwhelmed, it made me think more about the music being played, why I wasn’t impressed, and what would constitute in my view a very good performance.

I put “Live” in inverted commas for a purpose. I have discovered the Berlin Philharmonic’s app (downloadable for free from iTunes). It gives access to most of their recent concerts, as well as the ability to listen to future ones. The subscription is £7.49 for 7 days, or around £25 for a month. During the subscription you can listen to as much as you want. There is a free concert – Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven 4 and Mahler 1 – which is excellent. The quality of the performance (and sound) convinced me that this is a real winner. I listened via a reasonably fast wifi connection, in HD video, on an iPad, with a pair of good quality Bose headphones. The video production is excellent, picture quality is superb, and the sound is more than acceptable. I have signed up for a week, and so far have “attended” an Abbado concert of Berg and Schumann, and a Thielemann/Pollini concert of Schumann, Mozart and Liszt. Because the video is in front of you on the iPad you concentrate on the music. My conclusions so far: the orchestra are very good indeed; Rattle is in the form of his life; Abbado’s conducting look shambolic but there is magic in the way he rehearses because the results are spectacular (as he showed in London 18 months ago); Thielemann gets high marks for programming 3 Liszt Symphonic poems, but I don’t think he is all that inspiring, and Pollini has never shined in the Mozart concerti.

What the Berlin Phil are doing may be part of the future for orchestras, as they seek to find extra income and new audiences, in the way the opera houses are now making performances available in cinemas. Do try the free concert.