CLASSICAL & OPERA

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Christoph Eschenbach conducts the Houston Symphony Orchestra at London's Barbican Hall, tonight at 7.30pm

Not many of the world's best orchestras have never visited London before but then the Houston Symphony were perhaps not in the premier league until relatively recently. Yet their star has certainly risen over the past nine years under the dynamic musical directorship of Christoph Eschenbach. Now the orchestra embarks on its long-awaited first European tour, with London the first port of call, where they give the imposing and inviting programme of Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto and Bruckner's 4th Symphony (Romantic).

"I've enjoyed driving the orchestra hard during the time I've been with them," Eschenbach says. "There have been quite a few changes to its personnel; many players didn't fit into the new sound picture I was creating. So we now have lots of exciting young players and there's a real virtuoso element in all sections. Also, there's a forward-thinking attitude and lots of exciting new ideas, which don't just come from me but from everybody."

And is Bruckner's Romantic Symphony an ideal showcase for the orchestra? "Well, there are obviously outwardly flashier pieces," Eschenbach comments, "but few composers, like Bruckner, who work with great blocks of material. In Bruckner the question is really all to do with balance and building and sustaining the symphonic structure over a lengthy timespan. There also always has to be control and finesse. An orchestra must not so much shine as shimmer."

Eschenbach is just as fastidious when it comes to the soloists he works with, saying, "I choose artists who share the same style and aims as myself. I've known and admired Mitsuko Uchida's playing for a long time. She's a great Beethovenian. And what I relish about the Emperor Concerto are its opportunities for teamwork. Again, it's all to do with balance and the drawing out of lines of musical argument."

EYE ON THE NEW

Glyndebourne Opera House isn't customarily associated with operas set in today's Britain in which a tramp befriends a 12-year-old who has run away from school after being accused of vandalising a railway line. Yet that's the starting point for Misper, a new opera for young people by composer John Lunn and librettist Stephen Plaice. Glyndebourne Opera House (01273 812321) on 28 Feb at 7pm and 1 Mar at 2pm & 7pm

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