PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA | London, Brasserie Zédel

Sebastian Scotney heard the Philharmonia Orchestra’s strings play for the first time in the middle of the restaurant at Brasserie Zédel. Here is his A to Z of the evening. Photos by Corbin & King

A for the Acoustics. You never can tell in advance, but they were surprisingly good, with lots of clarity and detail and depth in the sound. I was hearing that the players liked them too.

B for (Benjamin) Britten. The first musical sounds to be heard were a couple of contrasting movements from the youthful Suffolk genius’s Simple Symphony. That jejune optimism set the right tone for the evening.

C for Conductor. Samuel Burstin is a viola player as well as the man with the stick, and he knew exactly how to get the results he wanted from his Philharmonia colleagues. He also proved a genial and effective MC. At one point he had fun describing the “dulcet-y chocolate-y sex-y tones” that his viola colleagues were about to make. And which they duly did. So C is also for Burstin’s great way of communicating.

D for dessert interval. The evening had a nice relaxed form to it. We received our main courses 20 minutes before the concert, and just said to our waiter we’d see him on the other side of the first half.

E. Encores. The final number, Strauss the Younger’s Polka “Unter Donner und Blitz” was the right kind of lively closer, but it did have some tricky moments for the basses.

F for a first. The Philharmonia was playing for the first time in this context. (see also J and P)

G for Gershwin, one of the American songbook composers in the second half. His Lullaby, originally for string quartet which opened the second  half was a musical highlight.

H. Hâché in pepper sauce. It is the signature dish, the most popular thing on Zédel’s menu. H also for the hardest letter of the alphabet to allocate in this A to Z.

I for Interval (see D) and Intensity Build (see M).

J for January. A cold rainy Sunday night. So not the best time of the year for a restaurant. And yet this concert was sold out within the first hour of going on sale.

K. for Köchel Number 136. The Divertimento for strings in D major by the sixteen year old Mozart from 1772.  Another good choice.

L for Libertango, the first half closer. See M.

M. Julian Milone from the second violin section was responsible for two beautiful Piazzolla arangements played just before the interval which were a definite musical highlight. Lovely understated bass figuring in the first piece, Oblivion, and a nice intensity build in the second, Libertango, which was just the right music to take us into the interval.

N. Noise. In the quieter passages there was some audible air conditioning. And the very occasional noise of a diner’s cutlery touching crockery. But eaters during the music were in a tiny minority: most people listened attentively.

O for the origins of this concert. Live at Zédel signed up the Philharmonia  as a partner to do chamber music in the Crazy Coqs cabaret room, and this was an extension of that original idea.

P for the Philharmonia Orchestra. A hard-working group. Their next outing in London is a “Spielberg at Seventy” night on the South Bank on Feb 5th. But I was hearing that they were in for a short night, and heading straight off at crack of dawn after last night’s concert.

Q. Queue. My spy who hotfooted it to the ladies loo in the interval told me there wasn’t one.

R for Round. The Orchestra was right in the centre of the room with the audience on all sides, so the audience tended to be close in, and attentive. And hardly coughing at all, quite remarkable for January.

S. Strings. For the trainspotterishly minded among us this was a 23-piece, 8.6.4.3.2 string orchestra. S is also for solos: they were very rare indeed but principal cellist Ella Rundle made the most of her brief feature during “Nice Work if you can Get It”

T is for tarte tatin. Dessert gourmands please make a note, this is important information: you need to order your tarte tatin before the start of the concert, the interval isn’t long enough; all the other desserts are fine.

U is for United Agents Music. They’re the young company behind the scenes that instigated and promoted this evening so quietly and efficiently. They were responsible for making “J” above happen.

V. for Velvet. The back desks of the violins and the cellos were extremely comfortably seated on Zédel’s bright red plush banquettes.

W. Waiters. The Zédel team were briefed thoroughly before the event about how the evening would run, and from what I could see they didn’t put a foot wrong. This restaurant group’s staff and the way they are trained and prepared is always hugely impressive.

Y for… Why an orchestra in a restaurant? When it can work this smoothly and efficiently the first time round, then one has to ask ….why ever not?!

Z is for Zédel, which through nights like this is increasingly putting itself on the map for its diverse programme of music, comedy, cabaret, jazz…. and for the first – and I’m guessing not the last –  time, an orchestra.

Sebastian Scotney / Twitter @sebscotney
Photos by Corbin & King

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