Friday 21 January, South bank Centre, Royal Festival Hall. 10:20am. Somewhat chaotic musical notes resound through the concert hall. The musicians tune their instruments. All at the same time. Then, the conductor enters, her blond hair tied back in a ponytail. Rehearsal begins.
The notes become louder, then quieter. "Good morning," says Karina Cenellakis, the conductor for the "Poems of Ecstasy" concert. She is the principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra this season. It is her second concert with them this year, and the connexion between her and the musicians is apparent. Once settled, she raises her baton, then lowers it, in a slow gesture full of delicacy and grace. Her body comes alive, she is dancing. One could almost see the musical notes dancing, too, as the musicians played Scriabin's Symphony No. 4, "Poem of ecstasy." Then, after a few moments, everything stops.
A friendly and familial atmosphere
It is time to perfect the musicians' playing. Little by little, with pedagogy, the conductor gives advice to the musicians. Most of them take notes on their scores. The atmosphere at the rehearsal is very good-natured, with laughter echoing in the Royal Festival Hall room. The complicity between the musicians is obvious. They share the same passion, the same goal. A feeling confirmed by what the musicians say. “What I enjoy most is the camaraderie, colleagues and the friendship with colleagues,” said Benjamin Mellefont, the principal clarinetist, before continuing. “Because music is really something very special to do and when you get to, at the same time, make close friendships and get to share that together, I think that is very unique,” he said.
The young New York conductor takes the time to dissect the scores, to give her interpretation and to answer the musicians' questions. Sometimes, she sings the melody, the notes, to make herself understood more easily. After all, it is music. Once the instructions have been given, the joyful players take up their instruments. And, little by little, the music takes shape, the orchestra harmonizes, and the composition, which was already very beautiful, becomes even more so.
A joyful class
There is kind of a classroom atmosphere. The musicians are chatting, laughing with each other, some are even reading, others, the more absent minded, are glancing at their phones. But all this in a very joyful, and relaxed way. As Benjamin reminded us, after all, when a musician is wrong, nobody dies. And this atmosphere, this energy contributes to the greatness of this orchestra, as confirmed by Minn Majoe, a young violinist who joined the orchestra in 2020. “What is great about the LPO is that everyone is so friendly, everyone talks about a family vibes,” said Minn, before continuing, “It is really nice to come into work and everyone’s got a good attitude.”
After a couple of hours, the musicians started a new part of the piece. Each instrument is then heard. A rare power and intensity emerge from the stage. The conductor approves, proud of her musicians, "Thank you, that's beautiful."