Tag Archives: Royal College of Music

Review: Turangalila Symphony, Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra

Another concert in the stupendous The Rest is Noise at the South Bank, as part of which I saw Child of our Time a few weeks ago. As with that work, I have loved Messiaen’s amazing “symphony” since the 60s but have never seen it live. As with all concerts in the series, there was an introduction and an interview with the conductor, Thierry Fischer, who explained the scale of the work: two soloists (Stefan Stroissnig on piano and Cynthia Millar on the astonishing ondes martenot), 12 percussionists, including celeste, glockenspiel and vibraphone emulating a gamelan orchestra, plus full symphony orchestra with what is effectively a brass band’s worth additional instrumentation.

It is no wonder that this (like the Paris premiere) was performed by a student orchestra and they performed it excellently. Although the work seems very complex on record, in a live performance it becomes clearer that virtuoso performances are only demanded from the two soloists, each section of the orchestra performing simpler, highly tuneful music – the complexity comes from hearing all of them at once. It is still a very distinctive, joyful and highly melodic work which made for an extremely enjoyable evening. Tippett started composing Child of our Time on the day war was declared; Messiaen started composing Turangalila in 1946, just after it ended. The first was a warning about the war to come, the other a celebration of its ending, both huge, both intensely beautiful.

Welcome to the free seats

The Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music hold many free concerts, mostly at lunchtime or early evening and there are also free concerts at lunchtimes in churches, such as St Martin in the Fields. Check the length as many concerts are short, so not worth travelling to unless you’ve are shopping or work nearby. I’ve mentioned the drama schools’ free plays (see the new LAMDA season) but commercial theatres also give away seats via audience filling or ‘papering’ schemes. Most productions are in fringe theatres but larger productions do come up, mostly at very short notice, for previews and press nights. These schemes often cost money to join and there’s a booking fee of around £3 for a seat. I am a member of two of these: one was advertised on my work intranet and is free to join; the other has an annual fee. As part of their conditions, I will not name either, not will I ever mention that I have been to a play or concert in this way. If you work in the NHS or other public services you might well find such a scheme available to you. Otherwise, these schemes are open to all (in alphabetic order): Audience Club, Play by Play, Showsavers Plus and Theatre Club. All limit the number of members and I am not sure which are open right now.