Thursday 28 June 2012

Youthful Music (2) - Venezuala, Lambeth and Liverpool

At 1pm on Saturday 23 June, the Simon Bolivar Orchestra with conductor Gustavo Dudamel gave an open rehearsal at the South Bank Centre preparatory to their concert that evening, as part of a weekend of events which had started that morning with a performance by the Stockwell Children's Orchestra (see previous post). As the concert was sold out, the rehearsal was inevitably popular with an audience of all ages with quite a few children. Over a two hour period, they rehearsed Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Symphony no. 3

Simon Bolivare Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall
The Simon Bolivar Orchestra have dropped the youth from their name, their age range now goes up to around 30. But they are still the same ensemble, based on El Sistema. Their line-up is still very much like a youth orchestra, Egmont was performed with quadruple woodwind and substantial brass (eight horns and four trumpets), and then between the overture and the symphony there was a substantial change-over of woodwind and brass personnel. Clearly the orchestra was travelling with quite a large ensemble.

The slight drawback with the rehearsal was, of course, that Dudamel talked to the orchestra in Spanish; this meant that we could hear them rehearse but not quite work out what they were rehearsing for. He spent quite a bit of time on the opening chords; these were followed by some very fine woodwind solos. Dudamel's main concern seemed to be the linking passages, it was here that he spent the most time. The resulting performance was thrilling and powerful, though I have to confess that the period performance fiend within me did rather worry about the balance between the lone piccolo and the remainder of the large orchestra.

For the symphony, Dudamel seemed to be content mainly to run through and only stopped for details. In the first movement, Dudamel and the orchestra displayed impressive structural control and well constructed paragraphs. The second movement brought out some lovely wind solos, against a very full bodied background, with impressive control from the band. The third movement was lively, delicate with a wiry strength. And by the last movement I was becoming impressed by the emotional weight and maturity of the performance. As an encore they gave us a lovely performance of Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations.

Once the rehearsal had finished, I caught the end of the concert being given by the In Harmony Lambeth quartet and the In Harmony Liverpool quartet. The four young players from Liverpool had travelled down from Liverpool that morning, getting up at 5am.

In Harmony Liverpool has some 150 young people involved, from the ages of 2 to 13. They aim to give five to12 performances per year and on Tuesday there is a chamber concert in Liverpool and the In Harmony Lambeth will be travelling up to participate.

Members of Simon Bolivar Orchestra, In Harmony Lambeth and In Harmony Liverpool
Then at 3.30pm on the Saturday afternoon, having given an open rehearsal for the press in the morning, a public open rehearsal in the afternoon and before giving a public concert in the evening, the members of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra gave up their time to join with the young players from In Harmony Lambeth and In Harmony Liverpool to rehearse a performance of Mars from The Planets, with the younger players playing from specially arranged parts. The result was an amazing coming together of experienced and young players, giving the children a glimpse of what playing in a full sized symphony orchestra is like.

In July, Arts Council England will be announcing the creation of four more In Harmony Projects.

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