Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra return: Gustav Holst's 'Planets Suite', Sir Edward Elgar's 'Enigma Variations', and Marion Wood's inspired arrangement of 'International Songs of Sea and Water' - Exeter Cathedral Saturday 21 April

Exeter Music Group's Director of Music: Marion Wood
with Soprano Soloist ('Cancao do Mar'): Hannah Berney
(Photography: Nigel Cheffers-Heard)
Marion Wood and the EMG Symphony Orchestra continue their outstanding efforts to make glorious music accessible to us here in Exeter. Marion and her team are currently planning and recruiting for a spectacular performance of Gustav Mahler's 'Symphony of a Thousand' (No. 8), which will be performed on a Sunday afternoon this autumn (Exeter University Great Hall, 5pm, Sunday 16th September).

Details are already appearing on the EMG website.

The 'Thousand' will be something very spectacular. And very expensive. To raise the necessary funds, all of the proceeds from this Saturday's Cathedral concert have been put back into the EMG budget to make sure September's concert is a huge success.

Appropriately, the 'fund-raiser' was sensational in itself.

A vast orchestra, and an audience of over 1,000 people
- for Holst's 'Planets Suite' and Elgar's 'Enigma Variations'
EMG Symphony Orchestra, Exeter Cathedral, Satu
rday 21st April
(Photography: Nigel Cheffers-Heard)
Sammie Buzzard: cor anglais
David Lotinga: bass oboe
Saturday's concert involved many wonderful instruments brought in especially for the occasion. David Lotinga brought his bass oboe, Samantha Buzzard made her debut on cor anglais (flawless! - well done Sammie), Robert O'Byrne added tenor tuba, Peter Dawson brought his contrabassoon, and Janet Williams arranged something very special for us. From the Dartington Hall storerooms she obtained - a celeste! The most heavenly of all instruments, the celeste delivers the sweetest sound of all.

Janet Williams: celeste!
The celeste was clearly going to feature in Holst's 'Planets Suite' - the enigmatic inner planets and the cold and distant Neptune. All that had to wait, however.

'cello leader Yvonne Ashby
prepares her instrument for battle
First, Mars - the Bringer of War! Charles Dowell's bass trombone rang out as Yvonne Ashby and her 'cellists broke into that terrifying opening tremolo. Martin Andrew and Christine Lewry completed the opening crescendo with incredible force - on seven kettle drums! Under that battle roar, Sarah Hodson could be heard (and seen, high on the staging) adding the fierce rattle of the snare drum.

Emma Bettany
& Tony Hindley
Brian Moore's trumpet section replied with an eerie echo, before the beligerant march began again. Deliberate and deadly, the warrior's theme commanded the full attention of the thousand strong audience.

Trevor Ives & Mary Saunders
French horns
Then Trevor Ives and his horn section switched to a sweet, gentle sound. Venus - the Bringer of Peace. As they paused to take breath, two harps intervened (Liz Grier and Jenny Campbell), accompanied by Janet Williams and the exquisite celeste. Flutes added the perfect element of sweetness, with Sophie Brewer of the South West Music School playing perfect piccolo. The horns continued to shine, but now with the addition of strings, Yvonne's 'cellos again, and Orchestra Leader, Clare Smith, playing a dazzling violin solo. In a delicate change of emphasis another soloist broke in on a very different instrument - Kate Osbourne was there with her oboe - absolutely divine! Through it all, the celeste added its special magic.

Peter Dawson: contrabassoon
Mercury, the Winged Messenger, had his own celeste line, now framed by Sammie Buzzard and David Lotinga playing cor anglais and bass oboe. Then came the biggest woodwind sound of all, Peter Dawson's contrabassoon. Clare Smith and Kate Osbourne played again, along with gorgeous contributions from each section. A little piece of perfection.

Tony Hindley: trumpet
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, was not only jolly, but also very thrilling. The trumpets were full of energy, and Tony Hindley could be seen sitting above the 'cellos playing lustily. In the horn section, modestly taking up number five position, but essential to the brass sound, was Exeter composer Peter Milmer (see 'Milmer's Requeim'). From somewhere in the percussion section came an unusual but very apt sound - the insistent rattle of the tambourine.

Kate Osbourne: oboe
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, moved to a softer combination of sounds. Woodwind, of course, and very leisurely harp. Oboes and 'cellos combined perfectly and later the muted 'cellos joined forces with the delicacy of the harps. The violas started to play a prominent part, and in the background a deeper growl - the double basses.

EMG Chairman
John Welton: clarinet
Finally, the two 'invisible' planets. Also drawing their names from Greek mythology, although the ancient Greek astronomers would not have known of their existence, Uranus and Neptune complete Holst's journey through the solar system.

Jenny Campbell: 2nd harp
(In 1930, twelve year's after the première of Holst's 'Planets', Clyde Tombeau at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona discovered a ninth planet. Hearing of the discovery, Oxford schoolgirl Venetia Burney proposed the name we now use - Pluto. However, Holst had no interest in altering his suite to include the newcomer. Perhaps he was right, as Pluto is no longer considered a planet. Colin Matthews' optional eighth movement, Pluto, the Renewer, was composed for the Hallé Orchestra in 2000, but is not authentic. Marion wisely left it out!)

Liz Grier: 1st harp
'cello pizzicato
Uranus, is not only named after the Greek god of the sky, Ouranos (who with the earth goddess Gaia was father of Kronos - Saturn), but also after the muse of astronomy herself, Ourania. (Ouranos/Ourania means simply 'sky' - the heavens.) The study of the night sky - especially the planets - was Ourania's domain. Greek astronomers strove to translate their detailed observations and predictions into more useful earthly predictions - astrology - which was considered a very magical art. In Holst's interpretation, however, Uranus, the Magician, is a rather masculine sorcerer, ushered in by trumpets and tympani. Later, harp and harp-like 'cello pizzicato add the more delicate magic of Ourania herself. She leaves us, appropriately for a piece composed shortly after Albert Einstein published his 'General Theory of Relativity', with the complement of space - time. The harps fade away with their version of the ticking of some celestial clock.

Joanna Cartwright: 'cello
Clare Greenall: 1st violin

While the orchestra played 'Uranus' there was some kind of commotion going on amongst the orchestra. Lucina Swain led members of the Exeter University Choral Society into the space between the strings and the woodwind section. Emma Bettany left her post with the trumpets to join them, and so did violist Fenny Gill. Another violist, Rebecca Springal (of the Devon String Workshop), also came forward. She is not playing with the orchestra at the moment - she has a new baby to care for. Something special was clearly about to happen - something requiring every available person.

Sophie Brewer: piccolo

Clare Greenall and Fenny Gill
violin & viola
To sing! Neptune, the Mystic, opened with Sophie Brewer's piccolo, Kate Osbourne's oboe, Sammie Buzzard's cor anglais and Janet Williams' celeste. Along with the trembling anticipation of the violins, they all paved the way for the choral section (two separate choirs!) to add their celestial voices. The all-female ensemble beautifully evoked the ethereal nothingness of the outer reaches of the solar system, where Neptune slowly traces the widest, all-embracing, orbit. Then, as the voices faded and fell silent one by one - nothing. The silence of interstellar space.

shoulder to shoulder
leader Clare Smith
conductor Marion Wood
As the silence drew out the audience tentativley began to show their appreciation. Some perhaps weren't aware that this really was the end. But then the applause was overwhelming. For Marion Wood who conducted with such feeling and precision, for Clare Smith who led the orchestra and played such sensitive violin solos, for all those instrumentalists who each brought their special sound to the performance, each of whom was given special recognition by Marion herself, not least Janet Williams and her celeste - and a very special ovation for the magnificent double choir.

- Intermission -

Prue Tasman: bassoon
Not for the first time, Marion Wood and the EMG Symphony Orchestra, having dazzled the audience with musical wonders, proceeded to do it all over again in the second half. Twice more on this occasion!

Ali Board: percussion
First the orchestra were joined by the Exeter University Concert Band - a lively ensemble of brass and wind instruments. There is some cross-over in fact, as Sammie Buzzard plays oboe with the band, and EMG tympanist, Ali Board, provides the percussion. Miranda Cunis made a welcome return to join Prue Tasman in the bassoon section, and Scott Williams brought his euphonium.
Dave Burnham: tenor saxophone
Lizzie Pierson & Caroline Kögler
Dave Burnham, Lizzy Pierson and Caroline Kögler introduced something unexpected to the orchestra - tenor and alto saxophones. Just to add to the mix, an unlisted performer arrived with a baritone sax!

Caroline Kögler: alto saxophone
All these extra musicians were there to give a little advance performance of something Marion Wood has prepared for the Queen's visit to Princesshay later in the year. To celebrate Devon's maritime heritage - plus the diverse musical culture of our many international students - Marion invited and selected traditional songs about the sea and/or water from around the world. The resulting compilation is delightfully diverse, and has that very recognisable style that Marion brings.

John McAvoy: glockenspiel
For a full listing of the songs see EMG's 'open rehearsal' on 1st March. Marion's 'journey' took us from the UK to Lithuania, Brunei, Russia, China, Thailand, Poland,  Portugal and the USA. Not only the wind sections, but also the percussion were greatly enhanced. several sets of huge darbuka style drums were used, Christine Lewry left her tympani to play an infectious rhythm on wooden blocks, Steve Bentley worked hard at his deafening bass drum, and John McAvoy added a beautiful glockenspiel line.

Hannah Berney: soprano
Everything was exciting and complex, but two things stood out especially. When the music moved to China for 'Boats', John Walthew could be seen, high up on the staging, playing a very oriental clarinet solo. An incredibly sweet sound. Equally sweet was the soprano solo by Welsh vocalist Hannah Berney. Hannah is well known for her performance on BBC's 'The Voice', and a very accomplished singer. Her Portuguese fado, 'Cancao do Mar', which she sang from the Cathedral pulpit, was the crowning glory.

- Intermission -

massed strings - for a gentle sound
With so many instruments assembled, Marion Wood was able to undertake yet another sensational suite of pieces. Elgar's 'Enigma Variations'. Marion explained that, contrary to expectation, the more instruments you have the softer they can play - especially in a large venue like the Cathedral. The variations call for exactly this kind of orchestra, and Marion knows how to use its full potential.

The 'Enigma' variations are on a theme hidden in the suite. Each piece is a cryptic musical reference to someone in Elgar's life - presumably to be guessed at when the premiere was performed, but now the secret identities of the dedicatees are well known.

Yvonne Ashby and the 'cello section
First Elgar's wife, Alice. The massed strings played very softly as promised - just a sigh - but built to a roar as well - which must tell us something about Alice! Elgar's pianist is represented by wild scales from all the instruments in turn - ending with Kate Osbourne's oboe. Kate appeared again as as the bleating voice of one of Elgar's thespian friends - whose normally portentious voice was represented by Peter Dawson's contrabassoon. Another of Elgar's friends, this time brusque and outspoken - was reflected in the impetuous and strident tympani playing of Martin Andrew. Then, a raconteur, always ready with a joking aside - amusing woodwind and violin phrases over gentle 'cello pizzicato. Elgar's violist friend, Isobel Fitton was represented by the EMG lead violist Richard Wood - a perfect solo, with perfect pizzicato accompaniment from the other violists - Rachel Wieck standing out in their front row. Elgar's struggling piano student was represented by wild flurries of sound from different sections ending with trombone, tuba, cymbals and tympani - the crash of the piano lid being angrily closed. Immediately the sounds changed to ladylike chatter, with Elgar's friend Winnie Norbury represented by Yvonne Ashby's short, but extremely sweet, 'cello solo.

Leader Clare Smith and the violins
Softy and surely Clare Smith's violins built from their quietest possible sound, joined en route by Yvonne Ashby's 'cellos. As the tympani rolled, the tune established itself. Nimrod! When Elgar composed this dedication to his publisher A. J. Jaeager, he created a piece which has become one of the best known and loved in the English repertoire.

All the string players then slipped mutes onto their instruments for another of Elgar's lady-friends, Dora Penny. Dora's stutter was represented by a faltering violin tune with a plucked echo in the 'cellos. Richard Wood gave another wonderful viola solo, while Kate Osbourne played something extremely reminiscent of 'Danza della Ore' from Amilcare Ponchieli's 1876 opera, 'La Gioconda' - Presumably still popular in 1899, and somehow associated by Elgar with poor Dora and her speech impediment.

A friend's bulldog falling in the river and huffing and puffing its way to safety, was the province of Trevor Ives' horn section - with the triangle providing the initial splash, and lots of brass for the final triumphant barks.
EMG Director of Music
Marion Wood
Yvonne Ashby had more wonderful 'cello solos to play - as Elgar's 'cellist friend Basil Nevison. Elgar's Mendelssohn-based homage to his seafaring friend Lady Mary Lygon was given to John Walthew, whose precise clarinet solo, 'Calm Seas and a Prosperous Voyage' evoked the composer's regard for his friend, absent overseas.

Finally Elgar wrote a variation to represent himself. Here he really let himself go. Big brass and strings played a really wild theme. As the energy grew, cymbals and bass drum joined in. After a brief respite, snare drum initiated another headlong rush with everyone throwing all the power of their instruments into the maelstrom. High above everyone else Martin Andrew thrashed the tympani with his hammers. As one whipped out of his hand and flew away, he reached for another - only to continue with even more force - what a finale!

1 comment:

  1. wow,instrumental music.It really touches my heart.I wish i could play those instruments.

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