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City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra - Festival blogger review

Festival blogger Claire Stewart reviews the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Going to see a really brilliant orchestra is never a 100% auditory experience, admit it! A big part of the fun is in the watching, all the bows in unison, the brass causing temporary glare from the reflected lights and the mysterious ways of the percussionists, sometimes rushing from woodblock to timpani, sometimes standing utterly still until the appointed moment when they softly brush a cymbal. It’s better than the cinema.

The Usher Hall wasn’t full for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s performance on Tuesday 28th August – which allowed me an observation opportunity I’ve never had before... a golden opportunity for a nosey-parker like myself.

From my seat in the gods, or the nose-bleed section, or the Upper Circle, I could see the whole orchestra laid out like tiny instrument-wielding ants and the sound was tremendous. I was aurally naked in the face of it, there was nothing between me and the pure acoustic dynamite which filled the auditorium. This is where I enjoyed (and I mean enjoyed) the first half of the concert, which was Gubaidalina violin concerto Offertorium performed with high-drama by the acclaimed soloist Baiba Skride.

The story behind this piece is fascinating and you can read more about it. The performance was utterly engaging, and although I didn’t get the impression of offering and sacrifice throughout, the solo section in the exposition sounded disturbingly like screaming... The feel of the piece to someone uninitiated with classical music would be best described as - like the soundtrack of a Hitchcock film, one of the stabby ones. You get the idea. There was lots of dischord and chanting rhythms as well as moments of release like shafts of sunlight. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra strings were wonderful with a woody and muscular sound, like pencil shavings in a match-box.

For the second half, I joined a friend with a spare ticket in the stalls to get a closer look and see the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and their charismatic conductor Andris Nelsons in action from close quarters.
I realised that what had been an animated black speck from the gallery was in fact an energetic dynamo of a conductor, and for the Sibelius of the second half, the orchestra were responding to his presence impressively, delivering a brilliant rendition of this well-loved favourite. The applause was rapturous enough to warrant an encore which was another short Sibelius, Andante Festivo - again, beautifully performed.

Watching from closer-up was interesting and the dynamism and energy of the conductor and the brilliant technique of the strings was evident, as was the atmosphere of appreciation in the hall, in a way that wasn’t so obvious from the dizzy heights.

My verdict? I would never have thought it but the nose-bleed seats are for me! The sound was utterly amazing. However I was sorry not to have been able to see the fantastic Baibe Skride in action from closer up as she played the Gubaidalina. And I will definitely take any opportunity that arises to see Gubaidalina’s work performed in future.

Claire tweets as @claireontoast and you can follow her postings on her blog.

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