We bought tickets for this a year ago and weren't once tempted to sell them on ebay where they changed hands for Łhundreds. South American pieces in the first half, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in the second, then four encores with Venezuelan hats and jackets thrown into the crowd.
The orchestra was vast - 44 violins, a mass of percussionists (one of whom looked like one of those fridge-freezer bodyguards who accompany drug barons to conferences with their competitors) twelve double basses, and both violas and cellos placed on the right so a wall of bass hit you from that half of the stage, balancing the massive violin sound on the other.
The hall was packed, with a higher proportion of younger people than usual. Some of these may have been from the British National Youth Orchestra who play on the South bank today. There'll be trouble over this - the dames in tiaras and the young fogies won't like sharing their snooty club with unwashed youth. I think we're starting to see a bitchy fight-back against Dudamel, the El Sistema project, and the popularisation of classical music generally.
José Antonio Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, was in the audience. He got a standing ovation. A Venezuelan family in front of us stood on their seats and yelled.
I don't know the Rite of Spring well, so can't compare how they played to other performances, except this sounded 'from the belly'. Spring's about vigour: youth fighting their elders for sex and power; the old fighting back by sacrificing youth. Nations traditionally go to war in the spring - the 'Spring Campaign'. It was wonderful to hear it played by the most vigorous youth orchestra in the world, just as London trees burst out and people strip off layers of winter clothes. The double-reed instruments - 4 oboes, cor anglais, 4 bassoons, contrabassoon - were positioned centre-stage and blasted a sort of raw, Dionysian insanity between the army of strings, striking you in the chest.
I realised that music which seeks to represent or mimic spring - tweeting birds etc - is a waste of time. There's no substitute for going for a walk in a wood and hearing an actual bird. What's important is the representation of human emotion and behaviour when confronted by spring - what happens to humans when (in this case) someone dreams of spring:
"I saw in my imagination a solemn pagan rite; sage elders, seated in a circle, watched a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of spring."
For an encore they played Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations. I laughed out loud. It's the most English of music - about a shy, middle class man walking the Malvern hills with his pipe. Touching they should have played it - they were honouring their host - but funny to hear just after a pagan girl's been sacrificed to the god of spring in music which, when first performed, caused a riot.
I took this picture when walking out of the Festival Hall after the concert: three English girls in Venezuelan colours thrown to them by children from the barrios half a world away.