Proms review round–up

4th August 2015

Aurora performing from memory at the BBC Proms

Well, that was quite a week…!  Very warm thanks to everyone who came down to the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday (or tuned in to BBC Radio 3) to hear Aurora’s BBC Proms appearance – preparing for the performance was one of the most rewarding and challenging musical journeys which the orchestra has ever undertaken, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that the response to the concert has been so resoundingly positive.  If you’ve not yet been able to catch the performance you can listen again on the BBC iPlayer here (part I), and here (part II).  And look out for the TV broadcast on BBC Four this Sunday, 9 August.

Much of the press attention, inevitably, centred on the orchestra’s memorised performance of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony. For us as an orchestra the excitement of this approach to performance lies less in the ‘feat’ of memorisation itself than in the musical possibilities which it creates, and it was gratifying that several reviewers picked up on the sense of freshness which infused the performance. The Telegraph‘s Jonathan McAloon wrote: “not being tied to the spot seemed, refreshingly, to make the performers bolder, as well as more bonded to their conductor’s vision. [Nicholas] Collon coaxed a wonderfully clear-running duet from principal flautist Jane Mitchell and oboist Thomas Barber in the second movement. The third movement, meant to represent a country dance, actually felt like one. When the storm arrived, it was as if the festivities had been interrupted by the weather, and you realised that the atmosphere had been ionised for a while. Nature, being the subject, felt natural again. There are plenty of other beloved but staid pieces from the Classical and early Romantic repertoire that could do with this kind of treatment.”

Neil Fisher’s four-star review for The Times noted a “heightened atmosphere” in the hall: “As they did with their no-score Mozart [Symphony No. 40 at the 2014 BBC Proms], the orchestra stood up for the performance, creating a sense less of symphonic study than spontaneous happening. Remove the printed notes, and suddenly players listen more, breathe more and are more inclined to follow a clarinet or oboe than always doff their caps to the first violins. Just as significantly, the audience seemed more connected, more aware that this was a high-wire act.”  For Michael Church in The Independent (four stars from him, too), ”Aurora’s performance made a fine advertisement for playing by heart. There was warmth and eagerness in their approach to the first movement, the cuckoo came pat on cue by the brook, the thunderstorm raged with furious concentration.”  Meanwhile George Hall’s review for The Guardian was headlined ‘Memorable for all the right reasons’, and noted as part of another 4-star review that “there was a sense of spontaneity about this interpretation that surely sprang from the risk-taking involved in memorising a 40-minute score – a gamble that certainly paid off.”  Music OMH’s Steven Johnson (4.5 stars) described “an invigorated, liberated performance… With vivacious, fearless playing like this, the reputations of the Aurora Orchestra and Nicholas Collon are set to soar even higher.”  Writing in The New York Times, meanwhile,  David Allen described the orchestra as “marvellous”, continuing: “Playing the Beethoven from memory, Aurora created an organic sense of community, dynamism and inspiration.”

The two contemporary works in the programme were also very warmly received. Anna Meredith’s BBC Proms Commission Smatter Hauler saw the Aurora players joined on stage by the talented young players of the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble (also performing from memory).  Neil Fisher described the new work as “pleasantly galumphing… a five-minute blaze of overlapping lines and gnarly harmonies”, whilst George Hall enthused: “Bright-toned and rhythmically punchy, Smatter Hauler seized the attention and held it.” Brett Dean’s Pastoral Symphony was “evocatively imaginative” (The Guardian) and “highly effective” (Music OMH) – look out for this extraordinary piece on our new recording for Warner Classics, Insmonia.

And no surprises that the wonderful Francesco Piemontesi should pick up such warm plaudits from all reviewers (The Telegraph: “marvellous” / The Independent: “perfectly-judged” / The Guardian: “clean and authoritative” ) for his performance of Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ Concerto K 537.  For Neil Fisher in The Times the concerto was the highlight of the concert: “Francesco Piemontesi’s probing performance — gloriously accompanied — somehow suggested that while he was playing a serious piece by Mozart he was listening to a much sillier one. This combination of the sweetly childlike and the intellectually questing reached its height in a first-movement cadenza (written by Christian Zacharias) that saw Collon partnering Piemontesi on tinkling celeste. This was pure Magic Flute, and echoes of Mozart’s operatic swansong cast an autumnal glow over the rest of a magical performance.”

More importantly, we’re thrilled that you the audience seem to have enjoyed the show. Check out @auroraorchestra’s mentions and the hashtag #PastoralFromMemory on Twitter for a flavour of the responses – thanks, very sincerely, for all your support and enthusiasm.  Now it’s onwards and upwards to the start of our 2015/16 season, and a host of exciting projects marking Aurora’s tenth year.

Looking forward to seeing you at a concert soon!