And speaking of imaginary travel, few itineraries can match the sightseeing trip of Europe organised by the Philadelphia Orchestra this evening.
We begin in Spain, with the flamboyant Albeniz as our guide, tripping our way lightly through Castille, before arriving in the rarified and melancholy air of Granada, our passage punctuated by the peal of bells. Seville comes next, a Sunday in summer, great crowds of suave men and women gathering in the city centre to watch the music unfold as graceful as flamenco dancer. Then on to that pulse-quickening rhythm of Asturias, that familiar yet insistent beat that demands and demands and demands, like a heart running out of control, until at last Spain bids us farewell, its adieu a last hurrah of a dance, castanets clacking.
Leaving Iberia behind, we enter France, and are immediately lost in the misty, dreamlike landscapes of Debussy. Breathless tonalities of music that vanish like smoke, streaks of sound dabbed exquisitely onto on a bass canvas, impressionist shapes of tunes that linger just out of our reach. We are overtaken by a vague sense of dread, a sense of invisible clouds gathering on the horizon, but our fears are soon dispelled as a glorious festival plants its song in our heart. We feel we are dancing in and out of shadows now, the music coming to rest on a cello's stillness, before breaking out into a clarion call of trumpets. We could drown in these melodies forever, but the time is not far when we must sail away from this place, our departure marked by the wordless songs of women bidding us goodbye.
As the songs of these sirens fade into the distance, we find ourselves arriving in Rome, our host none other than Ottorino Respighi. Here the music tinkles gently through the fields, skipping along like a clear spring, before vanishing underground, and progressing through a network of harmonies of ever increasing pressure to where the great pipes of an organ and the resounding brass of the trumpets propel it skyward in a great swoosh, the fountain spurting into the air with the crash of three cymbals, and then the slow trickling down as the notes fall back to earth and the gushing momentum of the sound dies away in ripples. We are reluctant to leave - we keep turning around to look back - like characters in some old black and white movie, watching some familiar village scene grow fainter and fainter.
But our voyage is not over yet. Far from it. The greatest adventure of all is yet to come. The faintest thrumming of the bass tells us that we are headed North, sweeping through the great snow-covered plains of Russia, to where the inexorable dynamics of Stravinsky erect themselves into a forbidding castle, and the Firebird waits to erupt like a great Pheonix, its wings blocking out the sky. A lone maiden sings her plainitive song from the battlements, then the evil tyrant arrives, his every heartbeat like the crack of doom, and the battle is joined. Baleful powers rise shrieking into the air, the sound soars, spirals and then, with one final explosion, dies; and the voices that remain grope together in confusion, slowly turning to each for warmth, for solace, joined in a final unity so compelling, it lifts us almost spontaneously into applause.
And I emerge from the Kimmel Centre wondering what I'm doing back in Philadelphia, wondering how I could have returned here already, when just a few minutes back I was both half way across the globe and in a different world.