BBC Proms 2014: the Berlin Philharmonic

Simon Rattle conjures magic at Prom 64

BBC Proms 2014: the Berlin Philharmonic

An evening of fairytales, fantasy and fun. The Berlin Philharmonic’s appearance at the BBC Proms was one of the most highly anticipated of the season: Prommers had been queuing since early morning and Radio 3 had been trailing the concert excitedly all day. But, goodness, did it live up to those expectations.

The short programme – Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Stravinsky’s complete score for The Firebird – was infused with magic, the fantastical and dramatic battles between dark and light.

First came the Rachmaninov, a work which opens with the dizzying energy of a tarantella and the edge of a danse macabre. The second movement waltz is the aural equivalent of the gothic stories of Edgar Allen Poe: Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic wove glittering cobwebs as they led us through the ghostly dancers conjured by Rachmaninov’s music.

The Berlin Philharmonic was on top form, seeming to breathe as one and visibly enjoying the performance. The lush strings and mellow woodwinds swept the audience along through the last movement towards an explosion of energy which left the Royal Albert Hall crowd breathless.

But it was the second half that everyone was really looking forward to and – unbelievably – the sense of anticipation was even higher after the interval. As the first notes sounded, we were transported into the magical garden of Kashchey the Immortal, with Simon Rattle – conducting from memory, as he had done for the Rachmaninov  – conjuring characters, scenery and, of course, the firebird itself, crafted from the virtuoso playing of the Berlin Phil’s staggeringly good woodwind section.

I could talk about the unbelievable pianissimos Rattle coaxed from the orchestra or the nice touch of positioning the trumpet section around the Royal Albert Hall arena or the glint of dark magic which infused the piece. But what made this performance so exceptional was the undeniable sense that the players were enjoying the concert as much as we were.

This was generous music-making of the highest order and a joy to witness. So generous, in fact, that the orchestra played the gorgeous (and substantial!) intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut as an encore.

Turning to the hall before that beautiful encore, Rattle said there isn’t an audience in the world like the Proms crowd. This evening particularly, it felt a privilege to be part of it.


  • Article Type: | Blog |
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