Ina radio programme this afternoon the conductor Mark Elder said of his or any orchestra that it should always be based in the community. That is certainly true of Manchester‘s Halle Orchestra which just now is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its foundation by the German émigré, Charles Halle. It both contributes to and enriches the life of that great city.
The same is abundantly true of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and I was conscious of this when I attended an afternoon concert there last week in Symphony Hall. The place was full, mostly of retired people like me, and even before the orchestra appeared there was a buzz of expectation that this would be another celebratory event in the life of the city. And so it was.
Their new Director of Music, the young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons (all conductors seem young these days) was making one of his first appearances in his new role, and when he arrived on the platform he was greeted by the large audience as if he was already part of the family.
He is a vigorous performer; his slim figure thrown around the podium with a variety of facial expressions which would make a gargoyle jealous. Between intervals he tucked his shirt back into his trousers and wiped his face, damp from his exertions. The orchestra – involved in the choice of their new conductor – were attentive, the programme was clearly well rehearsed and the rapport between him and the musicians plainly evident and rather moving.
It was a wonderful concert which began with Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, was followed by an electric performance of Saint-Saens Second Piano Concerto. Hardly a profound work, but Simon Trpceski the soloist gave it all if not more than it’s worth. Great fun. After the interval the reason why I had booked the concert: Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, a favourite of mine, rapturously played with some gorgeous solo work, especially from the clarinettist whom the conductor brought to her feet more than once.
A tremendous ovation followed, in which I shared. It’s clear that in Andris Nelsons, Birmingham has a new luminary and my favourite orchestra’s continuing pre-eminence in British music is assured.
As I left I saw that the magnificent Symphony Hall is host to the Conservative Party Conference for their Party Conference this week. Pity about that.