Gloria: Choral Highlights

'Puccini is a composer that I feel particularly close to, perhaps because of his contradictions,' says conductor Sir Antonio Pappano.

Antonio Pappano

Puccini, Ponchielli and Verdi

Puccini is so sophisticated in so many ways – as an orchestrator, as a melodist, and as a conceiver of stories and how they grow. He has this incredible, almost violent, dramatic streak but he takes great care over his characters; and if you know the music well, and know the pieces and perform them, it’s really quite something.

I recorded the Messa di Gloria with the LSO in 2001 – it’s a beautiful recording – and I remember at the time it being a real labour of love. Many in the Orchestra had not heard of it, let alone played it, but they were in heaven because it has an amazing allure. It creates sympathy and I find its lyricism is just incredibly winning.

Puccini wrote this Mass as a graduation exercise from music college so it’s a juvenile work. He never had it published, but he dipped into it and later used some of the themes in his operas – Manon Lescaut and Edgar for instance – and I’m very very happy to perform it with the LSO once more. The opening is almost immediately identifiable as being Puccini. It has rousing moments but I wouldn’t call them melodramatic – that, I think, is the difference between this and his operas. Despite being called the Messa di Gloria, it’s a full mass – the title intended to offer this idea that it’s uplifting. And it is, the Gloria itself is very light – it’s playful and almost like a Christmas carol.

The Credo was written first and Puccini intended it to be an isolated piece of its own: it’s a big structure and really quite impressive for such a young student. But, what I love in particular is the duet between the tenor and baritone in the Agnus Dei – this is the music that went on to be used in the opera Manon Lescaut, it’s just simple and very beautiful.

In the same concert I’ll also be conducting works by two other Italian composers – Ponchielli’s Elegia and Verdi’s wonderful String Quartet arranged for full orchestral strings. Ponchielli was Puccini’s teacher at the Milan conservatory, and was also very close to the music of Verdi which aligns them. The most important connection though is the fact that they’re all works that are non-operatic by three extremely operatic composers; that’s what binds them, and all three were composing outside of their comfort zone.

The Elegia is a particularly mournful piece, it is almost monochromatic, in one colour; a beautiful heart-rending piece of music. The other two works are much more structured – the Verdi string quartet is in sonata form with a big fugue at the end, there’s many of the standard elements of classical music with a BIG C here, and of course Puccini was following generations of composers before him that had written the standard mass structure. Working with the music of these three composers outside their usual genres is so very interesting and I find it quite moving.

Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition

Conducting competitions are such a rigorous test to go through; you have got to have the nerve to convince a great orchestra like the LSO of your knowledge of the music, of your conviction and of your gestures of course if you want to get through to the finals. You know, when you are in front of a great orchestra you’re forced to reveal yourself, and those who get through to the final rounds will learn a tremendous amount too – first of all the repertoire, but you’ll get feedback from wonderful musicians, from the competition judges and players, and you’ll get potentially steered in the right direction. A lot of things need to come together, your maturity as a human being, as a musician, come to the fore.

I think the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition is absolutely one of the most important competitions in the world. Donatella Flick has been incredibly generous over the years – since 1990 in fact – and the proof is in the pudding, that so many of the winners have gone on to have terrific careers. The fact that the LSO is behind it is a winning combination, because it is rare that such a great orchestra would be part of something like this – it shows the Orchestra itself is trying to nurture the next generation of conductors.

If you know your music, then participants just really need to try to transmit their love of the material, and show the orchestra you know what you want to achieve. The thing is, when you’re in front of a great orchestra they do things at such a level – you know when you raise your arm it’s almost all there – you know you’ve got to come up with something extra and something to give insight or direction to the orchestra, because that’s what they’re waiting for to see from the conductor.

Sir Antonio Pappano will be a member of the Jury for the 2018 competition final on 22 November 2018

On working with the LSO

I have a long relationship with the LSO that stems back to 1997. I first met the Orchestra when we did a recording of La Rondiné and we went on to make several recordings afterwards. I’ve had a regular presence in the LSO’s concert season and been able to shape programmes that I really wanted to do, and that I think have been fun for the Orchestra too. The sheer level of virtuosity with these musicians is awesome, but also is their uncanny understanding of the music itself – how it works, how to express it, how to be communicative. The LSO is an extremely communicative orchestra. It’s always getting better, and it always has, so I feel very lucky to be one of the family! You know they keep asking me back, so that’s really very nice.

Choral Highlights

Britten Spring Symphony

> Sunday 16 September 2018
> Tuesday 18 September 2018


Haydn Nelson Mass

> Sunday 11 November 2018


A Choral Christmas

> Sunday 2 December 2018


Bernstein Candide (concert version)

> Saturday 8 December 2018
> Sunday 9 December 2018

Szymanowski Harnasie

> Thursday 13 December 2018


Ives Symphony No 4

Sunday 14 April 2019


Ives New England Holidays

> Sunday 2 June 2019


Janácek The Cunning Little Vixen

> Thursday 27 June 2019
> Saturday 29 June 2019


Singing Days

Haydn Nelson Mass

> Sunday 30 September 2018


Puccini Messa di Gloria

> Sunday 25 November 2018


Vaughan Williams & John Ireland

> Sunday 10 March 2018