The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a world-renowned, highly prestigious orchestra based in London. It is the UK’s most in-demand orchestra, and plays approximately 200 concerts every season, with their audience worldwide totalling half a million. Founded in 1946 by Thomas Beecham, the orchestra is known for its extensive and challenging repertoire, ranging from classical music to film and television soundtracks. On Friday 29th April 2022, the orchestra performed a one-night-only concert at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall. Hannah Walton-Hughes attended, and reviews.
As one of the world’s most renowned orchestras, I walked into the expansive, acoustic-favouring Royal Concert Hall with high expectations. What I was not expecting was for those expectations to be exceeded beyond anything I could have imagined. Throughout the entirety of this concert, I cannot pinpoint a single fault from any musician, or indeed, from the conductor.
The best way to describe this orchestra is as an actual living body. The accomplished conductor, Vasily Petrenko, was at the very heart of the orchestra keeping the beat. Each of the sections were individual limbs moving as one; this was particularly noticeable in the strings section. As a musician, I have attended a fair number of orchestra concerts, but never have I seen a conductor so precise, absorbed and alert to every single instrument. Musicianship was taken to a whole new level.
all of the sections were given equal input and recognition
The concert kicked off with the memorable Johannesburg Festival Overture, composed by William Walton. The main tune of the piece, and its undertones, were maintained by the extensive string section, whilst the woodwind and brass were given surprising entries and interjections. One of my favourite aspects of this concert was the fact that all of the sections were given equal input and recognition. Too often, I have attended concerts where the pieces are dominated by strings, with the clarinets, in particular, seemingly there to simply fill out the harmonies. Solos were heard from almost all of the sections, even the twinkling harp in the corner.
Lively, light, casual and cheeky are words that I would use to describe the opening overture. The dialogue between the sections of the orchestra were particularly prominent here, and the moments of tension within the piece were built with soaring dynamics and cymbal crashes! Whilst not overshadowing the rest of the orchestra, the percussion section was utilised, with the maracas creating an interesting countermelody in the latter part of this piece.
With its amazingly abrupt ending, and surprising closing dissonance, Walton’s piece was the perfect choice to get the audience on the edge of their seats, and ready for the rest of the concert.
There was a short break after the first piece, where members of the orchestra assisted in wheeling a magnificent Steinway piano onto the stage, in preparation for the three-movement Piano Concerto No.5 ‘Emperor’, by the great Ludwig van Beethoven. The incredibly difficult piano part was played that night by Boris Giltburg, a famous Israeli pianist, who has graced so many of the world’s most prestigious halls with his beautiful music. I was lucky enough to get my programme signed by him at the interval.
I was completely blown away by this piece; the deft finger work and attention to detail by Giltburg was astonishing. For the majority of the time, he did not have to even glance at his music, which allowed him to become deeply and emotionally invested in what he was playing; you could see this in his facial expressions. Whilst the orchestra had just as much to do as the pianist, the solos that interjected the piece were memorable to say the least, the entire audience and orchestra were transfixed as Giltburg played.
A perfect combination of dialogue and unison between the orchestra and piano featured in this piece, often with both playing similar undertones, but totally separate melodies. Gradual chord progressions on the piano were followed by rapid scales, and the murky chords played by both orchestra and piano leant themselves to a rich texture.
That is not to say that there were not lighter sections. At one point, the piano sounded so soft and dainty, that it felt almost fairy-like, and the piece echoed dance music at various stages. Particularly in the latter movement of the piece, the almost ‘call and response’ structure between orchestra and piano, meant that, to me as an audience member, it was as if they were each inviting the other to play. Finally, I must mention the unexpected ending; the piano faded out so much that I was sure that the piece had ended. However, a massive crescendo from the piano proved that Giltburg still had a couple of bars left in him!
This was followed by a lovely surprise. An impromptu, short piece by Giltburg, played after the tumultuous applause for him had died down. The notes simply tripped off each other, and the silent absorption of the music was so great, I was convinced that the entire audience was holding their breath.
This piece had a sense of deep meaning and thoughtfulness attached to it
Last, and by no means least, was Vaughen Williams’ ‘A London Symphony’, an epic piece lasting over an hour and a quarter, and consisting of four very varying movements. This piece had a sense of deep meaning and thoughtfulness attached to it, with the start so low and ominous, that it almost sounded like the instruments were murmuring to each other. The dissonance (particularly in the final movement) was emphasised by the strong percussion section, and the constant overlapping of instruments led to a gradual growth in both dynamics and tension.
An anomaly in this piece was the third movement, which was significantly bubblier and upbeat. The piece seemed to be driving itself forward, with an urgency that wasn’t there before. The fourth movement moved to a more regal tone, with the harp playing a clock chime sound towards the end. The whole piece ended with something of a hum, and the conductor kept us listening for a few seconds after silence fell. Then the hall erupted into applause that went on and on.
As I exited the concert hall, the streets were crowded with people my age heading out to Rock City or Ocean, for a loud Friday night out. But for me, my night out was ten times better! Anybody who didn’t go missed out on a real treat, and I would implore everybody to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at least once in their lives. The energy, control, and emotion maintained by both conductor and musicians is astounding; they live the music they are playing, and we, as audience members, live it with them.
There is something incredibly special to be taken from an orchestra concert, that you don’t get anywhere else, and I would like to personally thank every single musician within the orchestra, Vasily Petrenko, and Boris Giltburg, for giving me such a unique and memorable evening. I will never forget it.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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