Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra – standing ovation for the conductor’s 40th anniversary concert
For the principal conductor of the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra, Michael Stefan Wood, his fortieth birthday was always going to be special, but I’m sure even he couldn’t have predicted how the packed audience would react to the concert at the St Andrew’s Church.
Three of the four pieces were credited with crowd pleasers, but it was the fourth, lesser-known piece that spontaneously got the audience to their feet at the end.
Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture has always been a popular orchestral work and is regularly performed as a stand-alone work. From the first bars, the musicians showed their courage and the entry of the brass was particularly thrilling, skillfully supported by the rising strings.
The opening gave the orchestra ample opportunity to show their light and shadow and the woodwind and string sections shone throughout. The impressive clarinet solo passages were beautifully executed. Powerful crescendos were juxtaposed with quieter sections, and shimmering patterns added mystery and playfulness in equal measure. The brass came into its own in the final chords, which almost lifted the roof of the church.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor is one of the most famous compositions in classical music and also one of the most performed symphonies. BHSO’s sure and punchy opening was followed by demanding pizzicato sections, which challenged all musicians. The last two moves were complete and came to a triumphant ending.
Originally written as part of a ballet by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, Spartacus’ Adagio transported many viewers to the “Onedin line” of the 1970s and conjured up visions of ships sailing on mighty waves.
The solo passages deserve a special mention.
The indisputable highlight was Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, as evidenced by the audience’s reaction when 14-year-old Aglaïa Carvalho-Dubost took the podium with the conductor. She played with a maturity well beyond her tender years and not only delivered a spellbinding performance, but also seemed perfectly at ease in front of the orchestra in her very first solo performance of a concerto. She had the skill and musicality to literally make her cello sing and the legato passages were sublime. There was a sympathetic accompaniment of the orchestra with an impressive lightness when it was necessary.
It was technically demanding for all the sections, but it was the young Aglaïa who stole the show… what a great way to celebrate her 14th birthday. Performing at such a professional level will undoubtedly ensure him a sparkling musical career.
Mike Wood should be rightly proud of all he has accomplished over the past four decades – his orchestra in turn honored him with a very polished performance. Burgess Hill is indeed fortunate to have a symphony orchestra of this caliber. Congratulations and Happy Birthday Maestro.