THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: London Firebird Orchestra presents: A Viennese Whirl

The London Firebird Orchestra‘s 2014/15 season started on Tuesday night with the first of four concerts to take place over the next year. The programme boasted an array of the classical music world’s top Viennese waltz hits as well as a handful of charming German songs performed by soloist Silvia Hauer. George Jackson made his conducting debut with the orchestra and, having just come back from studying in Vienna, the theme of the evening was very fitting. It was also Jacqueline Martens first time as leader of the London Firebird Orchestra, making it a trifecta of new faces to the London Firebird stage.

The London Firebird Orchestra, set up in 2012 by Marc Corbett-Weaver, is the answer to where recently graduated music conservatoire students go to play in the terrifying ‘what now’ gap after leaving education and before securing a seat in one of London’s established orchestras . The young group of musicians create an energy that only a young dynamic orchestra can provide. The collective youth of the orchestra was sometimes visible in the occasionally tentative playing, but generally, the group held their own under the excellent direction of Mr Jackson. Though the programme’s unvaried material was not adventurous, the instrumentalists, most especially the wind sections, thrived on the notoriously tricky syncopated rhythm of the Viennese waltzes. I will take this opportunity to commend Alisdair Hill (oboe), Samantha Pearce (flute) and James Meldrum (clarinet) for their excellent playing, both in the ensemble and solo passages. The orchestra in general appeared to grow more confident as the evening went on and by the end of the concert the atmosphere was buzzing with Viennese whirls and flourishes.

It must be said that the real star of the evening was Silvia Hauer, the mezzo-soprano soloist. Her charisma and excellent stage presence punctuated the evening, providing respite from the heavier instrumental waltzes. The programme of songs enabled Ms Hauer to showcase her superb singing and also her wonderful acting ability, going from a passionate Carmen in Bizet’s ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ to a hilarious drunkard in Strauss’ ‘Schwipslied’ from ‘Eine nacht in Venedig’.

The rest of the programme also contained some highlights, from the tradition of the instrumentalists singing in the Bauern Polka by Strauss, to the comical homage to the original performance of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ movement of his Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp minor, in which members of the orchestra would gradually get up and walk off eventually leaving only two violinists and the conductor on stage. These fun touches and the double encore at the end, complete with audience participation in the form of clapping (expertly conducted by Mr Jackson) were the components to a satisfying and pleasant evening of famous Viennese music at the Actor’s Church of Covent Garden. You can catch the London Firebird Orchestra at their next concert on the 8th of February 2015 at their King’s Place debut where they will be playing a varied repertoire of classical composers.

More information on the London Firebird Orchestra here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

Prom 70: Desert Island Discs 70th Anniversary, Royal Albert Hall

I try to attend at least one night of the Proms each year… this annual festival of music is one of the many things that makes London so special in the summertime. The line-up this year featured a glorious list of high calibre performers and delicious programming. On September 3rd fans and followers of Desert Island Discs assembled in the great Albert Hall to listen to an evening of the famous radio show’s most popular castaway choices.

Most people have some kind of affection for Desert Island Discs. The show is a permanent Sunday morning fixture in my family household, and it truly makes me smile, wince or weep every weekend. Kirsty Young manages to successfully extract touching stories alongside an album of beloved tracks from the world’s most familiar names. The show is unique as it is purely for enjoyment with no endorsements or advertising for the guests, no one gets paid instead it is an honour to be invited on the show. I always thought, when I was younger, that the ultimate dream was to be successful enough to be on Desert Island Discs, only then have you really ‘made it’ in your field!

The audience were treated to a star studded evening of guest appearances and Desert Island favourites. Shipwrecked celebrities included Darcy Bussell, David Attenborough, Sir Michael Parkinson, and Patricia Routledge. Each voicing their passion for music, recalling memories and chatting to presenter Kirsty Young. We listened to classic pieces like Bach’s Toccata and Fugue and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, tracks which have been chosen frequently on the show.

The compilation was played by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by the energetic and joyful Keith Lockhart. The orchestra played with compassion, effortlessly excelling in every style of music. Soloists included the stunningly voiced Ailish Tynan who sung two Puccini arias exquisitely, and virtuosic pianist Peter Donohoe who illustrated complete command over the instrument and played with a relaxed and confident tone.

As an added bonus for the night, we welcomed Bryn Terfel as a last minute performer; due to illness Sir Willard White had to drop out. He was a witty addition to the night, singing Coleridge-Taylor’s scenes from ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ filling the auditorium with his rich and captivating voice. The night finished with the jubilant world premiere of ‘Desert Island Hits’ and Coates’ ‘The Dam Busters’.

Unlike most Prom evenings, the selection of music was not specialist, instead we listened to a diverse collection of compositions from every era. It was the best way to celebrate this wonderful radio show’s 70th anniversary and to remember it’s incredible legacy.