In March 1952 Dr Furtwängler was conducting at the Teatro alla Scala and I went to Milan to meet him with the intention of negotiating a renewal of his exclusive recording contract with EMI and, should my negotiations be successful, to select with his approval the repertoire which would be recorded during the extension of the contract.
In the early 1960s when I was about 13, an optician friend of my parents named Peter Leach gave me his entire collection of 78rpm discs. It was a whole library of great and not-so-great classical works in recordings that reflected the listening tastes of a connoisseur. He must, I am sure, have subscribed to The Gramophone .
One of my earliest childhood memories involves my mother bringing her little phonograph out to our backyard, hooked up all the way to the kitchen with and extension cord. Not quite portable music as we know it know, but a start. As an adolescent in the late 1960s I went nuts trying balance LPs and 45s on a small battery operated record player as it sat on my lap during car rides and airplane trips.
My first experience of the Beethoven sonatas as a body of work came when I was 13 years old. I had flown to the Peabody Institute in Baltimore to play for Leon Fleisher, who several years later would become my teacher and one of the great influences of my life. Coincidentally, that same weekend, his students, between them, were performing the sonatas, complete, in a marathon session beginning early in the morning and ending somewhat past midnight. I arrived in time for the Opus 31 Sonatas (numbers 16 through 18, of 32) and stayed, excepting a short dinner break, to the end.
There was a strange sense of faltering change in the air in Lahti this September. Finland was at the end of its hottest and brightest summer for decades, but despite the shortening days the temperatures weren’t cooling and the sun wasn’t dimming. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra was revelling in its own new dawn, inaugurating principal conductor Okko Kamu with performances of the complete Sibelius symphonies.
‘Everything in this country today is going down the tubes,’ mutters the veteran BBC reporter, an Italy specialist, as we file into the concert. Then, looking up at the still-new auditorium of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, one of three towering, pod-like structures raised off the ground like alien spacecraft waiting to take flight, he checks himself. ‘Almost everything.’
Riccardo Chailly’s view of the Beethoven symphonies has been a well-kept secret, but now in a single well-coordinated gesture all is revealed. At concerts in Vienna’s Musikverein, Paris’s Salle Pleyel and London’s Barbican, Chailly and his Leipzig Gewandhausorchester will present all nine symphonies alongside five specially commissioned works that reflect their individual composer’s attitude to Beethoven’s symphonies.