Review: Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra; St Edmundsbury Cathedral; Bury Festival – Wednesday May 23

A quiet hypnotic texture overlaid with spiky individual sounds and melodic fragments opened the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra’s inaugural concert; this was John Adams’ minimalist piece Shaking and Trembling, which acted as a delightful American appetiser before the traditionally English main course which was to follow – works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten.

The new orchestra is the brainchild of conductor Leslie Olive, whose vision is to bring professional music-making to Suffolk. The (mainly string) players he assembled for this concert were most impressive, making a beautiful rich sound, and the soloists who joined them were exceptional. The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams saw Thomas Gould as solo violinist: his haunting and evocative playing held the audience spellbound, and his encore of Paganini’s fifth Caprice was spectacularly virtuosic.

Under Leslie Olive’s capable baton Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro was performed with passion – a really effective showcase for the strings. Student players from local schools joined the orchestra after the interval in a performance of three movements from Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Grosso, a piece expressly written for players of differing level s of ability alongside professionals.

What a remarkable opportunity and great experience for those young people. The final piece, Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, featured Benjamin Hulett (tenor) and Martin Owen (horn), both superb players.

The packed and enthusiastic audience in the cathedral fully vindicated Leslie Olive’s ambitious project, and the associated education work sent inspirational professional musicians into local schools and generated over five hundred pieces of creative work. Let’s hope there’s plenty more to come from the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Wynn Rees

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