BMW Classics 2013: A year for Berlioz

The LSO and an enthusiastic group of young musicians once again returned to Trafalgar Square in 2013 for an evening of free music out in the open-air, this time on a glorious Bank Holiday Monday! After an all-Stravinsky programme to kick things off in 2012, in 2013 Gergiev turned to the one of the most flamboyant composers of the Romantic period: Hector Berlioz.

Having 2012's concert under our belts gave us plenty of great footage to use in this teaser trailer for 2013. Look closely and you'll spot the Olympic countdown clock! It was unveiled in March 2011 to start a 500 day countdown to the 2012 Olympics.

LSO Animateur Rachel Leach guided the thousands of listeners in Trafalgar Square through the 2013 programme. Take a look for yourselves at what we played for the thousands in the audience that year…

Overture: Le corsaire (The Pirate Ship)

‘My Corsaire overture is performed everywhere, and yet I have only heard it once.’

… said Berlioz of his overture, which was immediately popular around Europe but never performed in Paris during his lifetime.

The original title for this overture was The Tower of Nice. It was written by Berlioz in 1844 during a holiday in the French town and was inspired intially by the ruined fortification on the city’s coast. Six years later after its premiere, Berlioz re-wrote it under the title Le corsaire rouge, inspired by James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Red Rover but then changed the name a third time to today’s Le corsaire. It is therefore highly doubtful that the piece is inspired by the Byron poem of the same name as many think, but the poem does retrospectively fit the work well.

Selections from ‘Symphonie fantastique’ arr Gareth Glyn

In a performance of a specially arranged version of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique by Gareth Glyn, 80 young musicians, including conservatoire students and LSO On Track young musicians from LSO Discovery, played alongside LSO players. Gareth also arranged a version of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring that LSO players and young musicians performed in 2012!

Symphonie fantastique

In 1830 Berlioz attended a performance of Hamlet given by a travelling English theatre company and saw on stage a beautiful young Irish actress called Harriet Smithson. Berlioz fell in love with her at first sight and subsequently spent the following five years pursuing her. He wrote the Symphonie fantastique as an alternative story of his love for Harriet, and it includes a beautiful tune that occurs in every movement and represents her – the ideé fixe. To make his
intentions even more transparent he wrote a ‘programme’ for the music and gave it out to the audiences. This programme described in great detail the story within the music, or in Berlioz’s own words ‘the episodes within the life of an artist … in the depths of despair’.

The symphony is in five movements and tells the following story…

  1. A young artist is hopelessly in love with a beautiful young actress. Whenever he thinks of her he is haunted by a beautiful melody.
  2. Amid the swirling waltz at a party, the artist sees his beloved through the crowds; but whenever he dances over to her, she disappears.
  3. In the meadows In the countryside the artist listens to shepherds calling to each other on their pipes. The thought of his beloved comes into his head and he angrily pushes it away. A distant storm sets in.
  4. Sickened by unrequited love and poisoned by opium the artist has a nightmare in which he kills his beloved. He is led to the scaffold to be executed by guillotine. As the blade falls his last thought is of Harriet.
  5. Still dreaming, the artist sees his beloved turned into an ugly witch. She casts a spell and dances around her cauldron with a group of cackling witches. A funeral bell tolls and the witches dance to the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath).

On stage in 2013

Valery Gergiev conductor
Rachel Leach presenter
London Symphony Orchestra
Young musicians from the Guildhall School and LSO On Track

Programme notes by Rachel Leach

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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 for more details.

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