Brno Philharmonic rehearses Thomas Larcher’s symphony inspired by mountains

Thomas Larcher, photo: Richard Haughton

The Brno Philharmonic Orchestra is currently recording the world premiere of a symphony written by Austrian composer Thomas Larcher, one of the world’s most renowned contemporary musicians. The title of the symphony,  A Line above the Sky, refers to one of the world’s most difficult climbing routes in the Dolomites.

The symphony No. 3, A Line above the Sky, was commissioned by six European orchestras, including the Brno Philharmonic and was originally scheduled to have its world premiere last May in Amsterdam. However, the plans were thwarted by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the Brno Philharmonic are currently rehearsing the piece under the baton of its chief conductor and artistic director Dennis Russell Davies.

"This is a metal barrel… And here is a cookie tin, which also has an interesting sound."

Petr Hladík, percussionist of the Brno Philharmonic, showed Czech Television some of the unusual instruments that play part in Thomas Larcher’s new symphony, including a metal barrel, a cookie tin, but also paper.

“It is quite difficult to run from one instrument to another. I also have to exchange the mallets every time, so it can be rather challenging.”

Petr Hladík,  photo: Czech Television

Born in Innsbruck in 1963, Thomas Larcher is today regarded as one of the most imaginative voices in classical music. He grew up in Austrian Tyrol and later moved to Vienna where he studied composition and piano. His music is both inventive and captivating, combining contemplative harmonies with experimental techniques.

The symphony A Line above the Sky, which was completed last spring, attempts to capture the contrast between the high mountains and people who are willing to sacrifice their lives in an attempt to conquer their peaks. Conductor Russel Davies told Czech Television:

“To me in a way it sounds like the Austrian mountains. Thomas lives in Tyrol and his music has always reflected the place he comes from.”

A Line above the Sky was inspired by the story of Thomas Ballard, a British rock climber and alpinist who set up one of the world’s most difficult climbing routes in the Dolomites, bearing the same name.

Ballard was also the first to climb the six major alpine north faces solo in a single winter season. He died in 2019 during an expedition to Nanga Parbat. Composer Thomas Larcher says his symphony is a testimony to the intensity of life:

“I know what the moments feel like when you think you will die. I had several meetings with death in those circumstances, whether it be an avalanche or a rock fall.”

Due to the current coronavirus situation, Thomas Larcher is only present at the rehearsals virtually. If the epidemiological situation improves, he will attend the world premiere of his piece, scheduled to take place in Brno in October.