An Open Symphony

It’s been forever since I attended a classical music concert. I can’t really even remember the last one. Which is why I was happy I managed to make it to Trafalgar Square yesterday for the Open Air Classics free concert where the London Symphony orchestra performed the Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz.

Unfortunately, due to moving hassles, I didn’t make it to the square till 6, the concert being scheduled to begin at 6:30. So you can imagine that by this point it was rather full. In fact access to the square itself had been cordoned off and shut – a fact one of the ladies in charge seemed to delight in reminding us of every 5 seconds through her bullhorn.

But somehow my friends and I managed a spot where we had a decent view of the large screens displaying the video coverage of the performance – so it wasn’t a total bust. Even the sound was not an issue. Despite being well away from the actual stage, I could feel the resonance of the brass and the echo of the percussion. Admittedly some of the lighter woodwinds fell faint upon the ear, but the heavier instruments were well received. Kudos to whoever did the sound design, it was seamless.

My favourite piece of the day was the 4th Movement of the Symphony – “The march to the scaffold” a piece that tells the part of a story where a lover, dejected by unrequited love, takes the life of his one beloved – and even then, in his last moments, his thoughts are of her. The heavy percussion and deep brass truly gave me chills (though the stiff breeze probably helped that along).

What I marvelled at most though, was the sheer number of people of showed up for this performance. Of course the London Symphony Orchestra is renowned, and deservedly so, but to see the average person flock in such numbers was astounding – tourists and locals; students and the elderly; those there to listen with their eyes closed and those just out for a new experience in a bank holiday Monday. They flooded the stairs of St. Martin’s and the National Gallery and all the spaces in between – what a joy to see so many coming together to enjoy a concert under the summer sun. Though I must say I could have done without the one group to my right that seemed convinced that their chatter-chatter was more entertaining for others than the massive concert happening right in front of them!

I look forward to similar experiences in the future. One of this city’s greatest assets and indeed virtues is its love and its unbridled encouragement of the arts. It’s breathtaking to see the myriad forms that cultural expression takes, and the numbers that come out to show it regard.


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