Every so often there will be an article published assessing the worlds great concert orchestras and then usually all hell will be let loose as critics and music lovers argue the case for their favourite.
My first orchestral experience was back in the 1960s when I went to see the Halle Orchestra perform a programme of Shostakovitch and Sibelius. I came out of the old Free Trade Hall in Manchester in a sort of daze after hearing a wonderful performance of the Sibelius 2nd symphony.
Over the past 40 years or so I have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the USSR State Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovitch 10, The Philharmonia in Bruckner 7 (under Guilini) and the London Philharmonic in Bruckner 8 (Haitink)
For my 50th birthday I went to Amsterdam to hear the Royal Concertgebouw (under Tilson Thomas) and a couple of years later went to Helsinki to hear the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Oramo) excel in Sibelius and Neilson.
More recently I went to hear the Vienna Philharmoinic (Thielman) in Vienna (twice) on the latter occasion to hear a wonderful performance of Ein Heldenleiben. I also managed to take in a performance of Tristan and Isolde at the Staatsopera………a feat in itself as the performance started at 5.30 and finished about 10.15, you really do need stamina for Wagner!
Last year however I finally managed to make it to Berlin and see the Berlin Philharmonic in a programme of Takemitsu (From me flows what you call time) and Shostakovitch (5th symphony) and what a revelation the Takemitsu was and nice to see the BP playing contemporary music.
Now the Berlin have the reputation of being the greatest orchestra in the world so I went along thinking that ‘surely all that hype can’t be true”
Well, friends and readers think again, they are simply the greatest orchestra I have ever heard in terms of the beauty of the sound they produce. If you are visiting Berlin at any time then beg, borrow or steal a ticket to witness this musical phenomenon.
As regards the greatest musical performance I have heard………..I go back to the mid 1980s when the USSR State Symphony Orchestra came to Sheffield and almost blew the roof off the city hall in Shostakovitch 10 conducted by Arvids Yansons (the father of Mariss Yansons).
I will always remember the orchestra being marched onto the stage with KGB “minders” strategically placed around the hall.
I don’t think I have ever come out of a concert hall more exhilarated although hearing my first live Mahler 2 by the Halle under Stanisław Skrowaczewski runs it very close.