Fantastique at the BBC Proms
25 September 2019
‘The performance was as vivid to the ear as it was to the eye.’
We’re still buzzing after our big night at the BBC Proms and feeling very thankful for the overwhelming enthusiasm we’ve received. This year we brought to life the opium-infused visions of 19th-century French composer, Hector Berlioz. In two back-to-back Proms performances, we introduced audiences to Fantastique, our Orchestral Theatre production of Berlioz’s wildly imaginative Symphonie fantastique performed from memory, with stage design, lighting, movement and the composer’s own words about his music. Collaborating with actor Mathew Baynton (Horrible Histories, Ghosts), we traced the journey from Berlioz’s inspiration for the epoch-making work to the cinematic fantasy of passion and obsession that he musically depicted.
You can still catch the full Orchestral Theatre performance on BBC iPlayer until Sun 13 October.
Here’s a look back at the drama and music of the night.
Telling the story of Berlioz’s inspiration for the Symphonie fantastique – his romantic infatuation with Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson.
Giving a short musical presentation of the idée fixe (the recurring musical theme) that runs obsessively through the work.
Principal Conductor Nicholas Collon leads us in the memorised performance.
‘The playing had a tremendous zest and, in the quieter passages, a pellucid beauty. Clearly, these musicians had learnt Berlioz’s surreal masterpiece not just by heart, but with heart.’
THAT glitterball moment…
Using every spot of the Royal Albert Hall, our offstage oboe John Roberts serenades everyone in the third movement Scene in the Country.
‘phantasmagoria was fully realised, Berlioz’s visions brilliantly conveyed; a wonderful spectacle.’
Ending the work with a masked Witches’ Sabbath in full demonic madness (masks courtesy of Wintercroft).
‘Aurora’s performance was a triumph, a wacky, psychedelic ride. Truly Berlioz on acid.’
More from the critics…
‘There were many memorable visual moments: the four glittering harps in the ballroom movement, which ended in a whirl of lights reflected from half a dozen glitterballs; then the musicians were fireflies beneath a glowing moon, lights illuminating from their wrists; and the Witches’ Sabbath had them in sinister paper masks, the stage lit blood red. Yet nothing upstaged the music, with Collon driving the tempos and encouraging characterful playing from wind and brass. ’ ★★★★ The Guardian
‘Led by Maia Cabeza, the Aurora strings have a fresh and fierce togetherness, with the all-important woodwind voices…full of wayward, eccentric character.’ The Artsdesk
‘It was a fitting way to complete the Proms commemorations of the Berlioz anniversary, with one of his most revolutionary scores made to sound like the ink was still drying on his page.’ Arcana FM
Just a few snippets of the overwhelming audience feedback we’ve received that have kept us (and will continue to keep us) smiling for days.
Hands down, tonight’s @auroraorchestra #Berlioz Prom was one of the most thrilling concert performances I’ve ever been to. Just stunned by the musicianship – AND THE DRAMA, OH MY DAYS, THE DRAMA! Have just bought a ticket to see it again at 10.15 because I am now a total fanboy. pic.twitter.com/D8OrsLNxqf
— KO’N (@musicplaysfilms) September 12, 2019
INCREDIBLE performance by @auroraorchestra last night at the RAH. i brought along 7 orchestral novices who were blown away. memorised music, disco balls and a full orchestra in masks for the final movement. nuts
— meggie grady (@meggiegrady) September 13, 2019
Still buzzing from @auroraorchestra’s prom last night! What talent, passion and creativity! Heard things in Symphonie Fantastique I had no idea were there. What a piece and what a way to hear it. Thank you!
— Nicola Ihnatowicz (@Nicola_Ihnatz) September 13, 2019
Do this!! And then find out if @auroraorchestra are playing live anywhere near you and then GO! And take a young person with you if you can & here them say “that was the most extraordinary thing i have ever seen!!” as my son said to me ❤️ https://t.co/febGTY44Fw
— Emma Wilcox (@emwilco) September 13, 2019
THREAD I would like to share a few words about the @auroraorchestra‘s performance of Symphonie Fantastique at the BBC Proms last night. I was floored by it. (In the best way!) We’re talking heart-pounding, edge-of-the-seat, jaw-dropping, not as hyperbole but as real experiences.
— Kieran Hodgson (@KieranCHodgson) September 13, 2019
Two things I love about @auroraorchestra 1) they keep asking questions of what we do in classical music and compel others to be more daring 2) they always do it with such musical finesse and style. Berlioz would’ve adored their theatrical Symphonie fantastique @bbcproms tonight. pic.twitter.com/2BxXQLmouD
— James Murphy (@jamesmurphynow) September 12, 2019
We’ve seen @auroraorchestra play from memory 5 years running now. It was brilliant the first time and it gets better every year. The drama, effects and choreography were perfect. The guy next to me this evening had never been to an orchestra concert before. You’ve set a high bar!
— Rach Warwick (@rachwarwick) September 12, 2019
Thank you to everyone who joined us on this journey into Berlioz’s mad world. Fantastique would not have been possible without generous support. We are hugely grateful to the New Berlioz Edition Trust for supporting the project during Berlioz’s sesquicentenary year – celebrating 150 years since the composer’s death. The production is part of Aurora’s Orchestral Theatre series, which is made possible by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Cockayne – Grants for the Arts and The London Community Foundation, and the Aurora Patrons and Friends.
What’s on next in our Living Music 19/20 season? This Sat 28 September we return home to Kings Place with two concerts – a Mozart’s Piano programme with pianist Ronald Brautigam and saxophonist Amy Dickson, and Mozart in the Garden, a late-night Lock-In that reimagines our interactive children’s concert for grown-ups.
Photo credit: BBC/Mark Allan