London Symphony Hitting a High Note for Orchestras

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London Symphony Hitting a High Note for Orchestras

The London Symphony Orchestra, housed at the Barbican Center in London, has become a model for aspiring orchestras, known for its fine planning of musical events as well as for the great performances it provides.

Every year, the LSO holds a musical festival that focuses special attention on up to four composers. This tradition began when Sir Colin Davis joined as principal conductor in 1995 and has grown in stature since. This year, for example, the orchestra is holding a series of performances, "Boulez 2000," highlighting the works of the French composer Pierre Boulez. It also held a "Lorin Maazel Special" to pay tribute to the composer and conductor who turned 70 this year.

At home this month the London Symphony Orchestra performed Berlioz's "The Trojans: Part 1 and Part 2" under the baton of Sir Colin Davis. "The Trojans" is originally an opera, but it was transformed into an orchestral piece with great success. The performance, which included 12 soloists and the London Symphony Chorus, went on for hours without an intermission - an epic end indeed to the orchestra's aptly titled "Berlioz Odyssey" series of concerts.

The concert was broadcast live by BBC Radio 3 and will be included in "LSO Live," a series of affordable compact discs launched last year. The next CD in the series is expected to hit the market early in the New Year. The London Symphony is not the only orchestra to take the initiative to produce cheap CDs of live performances. Many other prestigious world orchestras, such as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra, have been adopting the same strategy because of a severe drop in offers from major recording companies.

London Symphony Orchestra festivals are also famous. The orchestra benefits from the diversified cultural spaces in the Barbican Center and many of its festivals boast special exhibitions, lectures and screenings of films that accompany the performances.

For example, a special showing of the historic film "La Symphonie Fantastique," starring Jean-Louis Barrault, was arranged for audiences at the Berlioz concert to help them understand the composer better. Running over 13 months, the "Berlioz Odyssey" repertoire included "Romeo and Juliet," "Harold in Italy," "Beatrice and Benedict Overture," "The Damnation of Faust" and "The Trojans." The series kicked off in December 1999 in honor of the 200th birthday of the French composer, who was born in 1803.

Sir Colin Davis, the patron of the "Berlioz Society," has put great effort into promoting Berlioz since the revival of "The Trojans" at Covent Garden in 1957. He has been well rewarded, with many critics raving about "Berlioz Odyssey" as the most comprehensive series of performances of Berlioz's operatic, choral and symphonic works to be undertaken by a British orchestra.

The orchestra is planning a concert tour in Japan with Mstislav Rostropovich as guest conductor in May 2001. It is also trying to schedule a concert in Seoul around the same time.

by Lee Jang-jik

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