BMW Classics 2012: Where it all began

From the very beginning, BMW Open Air Classics concerts have always promised delightful music in an iconic setting, free to enjoy beneath the balmy sky of a warm summer's evening. Back in 2012, in the run up to the Olympics during a summer like no other, an estimated 7,000 people gathered in Trafalgar Square for this feel-good, outdoor experience.


This first concert heralded the start of a new long-term partnership between BMW and the LSO to create a groundbreaking series of annual concerts. Dr Ian Robertson of NMW AG said at the time:

'We are very proud of this new cooperation between the London Symphony Orchestra and BMW. With such an outstanding orchestra, we look forward to thrilling and passionate live concerts. The free to the public BMW LSO Open Air Classics concert series on Trafalgar Square is the first international location of similar partnerships in Munich and Berlin. For BMW Group’s international cultural engagement, this cooperation is an important milestone towards the future of corporate citizenship.'

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Valery Gergiev, LSO Principal Conductor in 2012, celebrated the new project…

‘I congratulate the LSO and BMW on this initiative. I believe it is so important to take music beyond the concert hall. I hope that performing these great works in such an impressive outdoor space will encourage many new people to experience the very special sound and experience of a truly great orchestra.’

And what did Gergiev programme to fulfil his wish of taking music out of the concert hall? None other than the spectacular masterpieces of Igor Stravinsky! We invite you to take a closer look at the programme from 2012 and a little behind-the-scenes footage from the day…

Fireworks (1908)

First up on the programme, at only five minutes in length, Fireworks is what's described as an Orchestral Fantasy – a piece that defies normal definition and has no particular design or form, except that of its composer’s fancy.

It's everything you’d expect it to be from its title, invoking vivid images of spinning Catherine wheels, sparklers, Roman candles and the occasional rocket. The woodwind instruments and high strings flutter and sparkle, whilst the horns, lower strings and percussion seem to simulate lit touch paper, the fireworks’ ignition, and blast-off through fanfares that get passed around the instruments, weaving in and out.

The Firebird – Suite (1910, revised 1945)

The Firebird is a majestic, magical glowing bird from a land far away, which emits red, orange and yellow light, ‘like a bonfire that is just past the turbulent flame’. It can be both a blessing and a burden to those who encounter it.

Serge Diaghilev considered many Russian greats to compose the music for his latest venture, a Russian nationalist ballet around the beloved mythical Russian creature, the Firebird, which artist Alexander Benois had inspired him to produce for the Ballets Russes. Ultimately he turned to Stravinsky who, feeling rather bold, had started to compose sketches for The Firebird before Diaghilev had given him the commission.

The Lite of Spring (2007) arr Gareth Glyn 

In Gareth's own words, 'I was asked to produce a version of Stravinsky’s masterpiece The Rite of Spring which would be about half the length of the original, for wind and percussion only, and which would provide an opportunity for young players of mixed ability to take part. The Rite of Spring is well-known for its complexity, so I selected sections where the chords and rhythms could yield material straightforward enough for the learners. The music may not look the same, but it will sound the same; the orchestra plays a fully-functioning arrangement of the original, while the youngsters’ material varies between Stravinsky’s (as written) and repeated patterns which, although simple, are true to the chordal and rhythmic structure of the 1913 score.'

Jessica Mead, LSO On Track Performer Perspective:

‘Performing The Lite Of Spring at Trafalgar Square and playing alongside LSO members is an unbelievable opportunity that I am so grateful for! When we rehearsed at the Barbican the atmosphere was amazing, the piece sounded great, even though it was the first time we had seen the music. The tutors helped us to learn and understand The Lite Of Spring which was really helpful and interesting, although it was challenging at times! Overall, it was an experience I will never forget.'

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The Rite of Spring (1913)

The opening night of The Rite of Spring at Paris’ Théâtre du Champs-Elysées gave rise to one of the greatest scandals in the history of theatre. The music and the primitivist choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky caused a ruckus as soon as the curtain rose. It’s often the case that scandalous works go on to form cornerstones in periods of music, and such it is with The Rite of Spring, which in the eyes of many marks the beginning of modernism and the beginning of the 20th century as a period in music.

The music itself is based on folk music, which Stravinsky layered in complex ways along with harmonies that (to someone at the turn of the century) appear to clash explicitly, creating great drama. The dissonant notes are packed into an intense rhythm that jolts and stutters. All these techniques are carefully manipulated – notes and rhythms get turned around, flipped upside down, shortened – to create the music. The piece is in two halves; one representing day, the other night.

On stage in 2012

Valery Gergiev conductor
Paul Rissmann presenter
London Symphony Orchestra
LSO On Track young musicians from across East London boroughs with LSO

Programme notes by Edward Appleyard


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On Sunday 7 June at 3pm BST, join us on YouTube as we broadcast last year's BMW Classics concert recorded in June 2019 at Trafalgar Square. Head to lso.co.uk/alwaysplaying for more details.

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