Mariinsky & RSNO

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As part of the Herald Young Critics programme, participants reviewed two of the world's greatest orchestras, Mariinsky & RSNO, both under a single powerhouse conductor at the 2017 International Festival.

Mariinsky & RSNO

Mia Scott 


Prokofiev’s first symphony opened to a bright yet dramatic Allegro, expressing the most captivating dynamics from delicate pianos to powerful, almost percussive fortes. Not a page of the score was turned by the enchanting conductor, Valery Gergiev, who didn’t so much conduct in the traditional way of waving almost aggressively, but rather stroked the music with his baton-less hand, making an enchanting performance not just from the orchestra. The short – but very sweet – symphony ended with a flying finale, whisking the audience into rapturous applause.

Britten’s Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge displayed an interesting use of harmonics, spiccato, tremolo and some fantastic pizzicato sections, keeping the audience deeply absorbed. A beautiful violin solo carried the lyrical melody line, but was slightly upstaged by the following viola and cello solos, which were impeccable.

Both orchestras collaborated for Shostakovich’s fourth Symphony, creating an immense army of sound. The repertoire was the perfect choice for such a colossal ensemble, emphasizing the catastrophic and monstrous melodies. The timing was completely accurate throughout, an extremely impressive feat for such a large group of players. Intonation again was spot on even during some of the trickiest passages ever written for orchestral playing. An eerie silence was left to echo around the theatre, only broken by a wave of applause and very well deserved standing ovation.    

Lucia Pagano


What an absolute powerful performance last Wednesday night during the anniversary of the 70th year of the Edinburgh International Festival, which took place in the Usher Hall.

The concert was a sell out. The first part of the programme included Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1, played by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra from Saint Petersburg, and the Britten’s Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, performed instead by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Both Orchestras showed an incredible ensemble work and technical skills.

The Prokofiev’s Symphony filled the hall with a warm and exciting atmosphere due to its lively running and precise passages, its crystalline sound and its joyous melodies.

The Britten’s Variations had instead 11 movements and there was not the woodwind section. The Variations included more dramatic themes than the Prokofiev’s; in fact it there were more strange and rich harmonies with a deeper sound. We could also see some solo parts performed by the first Violin and Viola.

The biggest event of the evening was certainly the famous Shostakovich Symphony No 4 which joined the 2 orchestras together making a giant one. The music included was really dramatic and there were surprising dynamic effects. The atmosphere was very strong, loud and heavy effect due to its rich dissonant chords and the addiction of the percussion. The piece surprisingly ended really quietly and after 30 seconds of pure silent the crowd shouted and applauded for more than 10 minutes making the evening more than alive.

Sean Hughes


Starting off with Prokofiev’s ‘Symphony No 1 in D Major Op 25, ‘Classical,’ which was composed during Russia’s Revolutions in a ‘neo-classical style,’ took me by surprise. It was filled with beautiful twists and turns, was a complete contrast to the RSNO’s ‘Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge Op 10’ by Benjamin Britten. I felt that Prokofiev wrote this piece as a complete contrast to the events at the time it was written, as it’s sweet, almost ballet style allowed me to relax after a long day.

The RSNO on the other hand, had a completely opposite effect on me, as I found myself gripping to the edge of my seat because of the tension. It starts off by setting an un-nerving dark mood, with a contrasting sweet melody on top. It was extremely dischordant and filled with dissonant tri-tones. The ‘Funeral March’ movement particularly stood out for me, as the constant falling fifths in the basses helped set the tone of death. The finale ended with a recap of the intro, and a gradual slow-down to nothing.

Both of these orchestras combined for Shostakovich’s Symphony No 4 in C minor Op 43 gave a lot of room for ambiguity in terms of dynamics and texture, it helped set the scene of Shostakovich’s retaliation to the state at the time this was written.

The cherry on top of all this, was Valery Gergiev’s conducting, which was presented in a neat, professional style. 

Freya Ruuskanen


With a standing ovation at the end, the Mariinsky and the Royal Scottish national orchestra delivered a spirited and unique performance that was tremendous to watch. 

The Prokofiev played by the Mariinsky orchestra was wonderful. Its quite a short symphony and I really didn't want it to end. The orchestra moved as one as well as being very inspiring to watch due to their exaggerated bow strokes and free playing. The final movement of this symphony was my most enjoyed due to their lively and spirited playing as well as their fantastic finnish which rounded off the symphony effectively. 

Following this, was the variations on a theme of Frank Bridge Op.10 by Britten. This was also a fantastic symphony to listen too. The cello solo in the first movement was lovely with an incredible warm tone that filled the hall. However, the 'Aria Italiana' was definitely the most thoroughly enjoyed. The plucking coming from the violins, violas and cellos was very amusing as they are all instructed to play like a guitar. 
The final symphony by Shostakovich was lovely to see both orchestras uniting together. They complemented each other very well and blended fantastically. They even congratulated each other during the performance after a solo was given. 
Overall, it was a riveting performance that will not be forgotten.

David Watson


The concert featured two famous orchestras the Mariinsky and the RSNO. The first half included Prokofiev’s symphony no.1 in D minor (played by the Mariinsky orchestra) and Britten’s variations on a theme of frank bridge (played by the RSNO). Both orchestras introducing passionate performances of each piece. From the fast scalic passages in the Prokofiev to the atonal melodies within the Britten. Both orchestras delivered moving performances of their individual pieces.

The second half of the concert brought both orchestras together to deliver a powerful performance of Shostakovich’s symphony no.4. Both orchestras complement each other very well. They made an overall powerful sound which made the performance even more dramatic. The dramatic builds within in the piece were mesmerising and slow quiet sections that were reduced to almost nothing had a chilling effect on me. Unlike most of Shostakovich’s symphonies this one sort of faded away instead of the usual magnificent powerful endings that were used to.

The overall performance for me was absolutely fantastic both orchestras delivered fantastic renditions of the pieces which would have been enjoyable for any listener. Gergiev added to the performance with an inspiring individual conducting performance. I rated it four out of five stars because some of the playing did not sound very focused and together however overall the concert was very enjoyable.

Saskia Eng


I think we must say… what a concert this was. The vivacious crowd filled the hall with passion and feeling, which played a part in making Mariinsky such a breath-taking show on Wednesday night. This particular concert consisted of a few different pieces by a range of amazing composers.

In the final piece these two fabulous orchestras came together and performed Symphony No4 in C minor, by Shostakovich. The emotion and excitement around was truly incredible.

I personally do not entertain classical music as such but I feel that anyone who had attended Mariinsky on Wednesday night would have had a complete change of heart if you were of similar opinion. Each piece had their own characteristics but there were also a lot of things in common between them including; flowing string parts, mixture of tempos, instrumental solos, energetic feel, dramatic feel. What a night to remember I would say...the crowd was totally captured by this stunning performance.

For me this was actually a life changing moment…It never crossed my mind that I would've left that concert totally mesmerised by it. The performers drag you in to join them in a way, it is spine chilling, almost as if you were up there on stage living that experience with them, and breathing every breath they took with them, you feel part of it, as the Goosebumps took over my body, and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck I realised this is what you call music.

Bonnie Higgs


The concert opened with the Mariinsky orchestra Prokofiev. They played intricately and together as the sounds was very clear and tight. There was lots of energy from the players to deliver a strong performance. The RSNO then played Britten, This orchestra was substantially larger in size enable the full sound of the orchestra to produce dramatic dynamics. I also enjoyed the variations of the ways the string players would play their instruments i.e. plucking, strumming. I felt as though the first two pieces were a nice taster to how talented each orchestra was and was preparing us for the big finale of the orchestras combining. When the orchestras did join it was exceptional. The emotions of the symphony were an immense rollercoaster from delicate and majestic to thunderous and thrilling. It was incredibly unpredictable to what the orchestra were going to do next which was very exciting. The music would go from extremely built up and loud to a dramatic stop and the continue on creating different atmospheres. I imagined the piece to finish at one of these stops but in fact it ended at a mesmerising, majestic part and faded out to leave the audience in awe.

Morven Warren-McArdle


So, I don’t know about the person sitting next to me, or in front of me, but after last night’s performance by the Mariinsky Orchestra and RSNO, my behind hurts a great deal, probably from being on the edge of my seat constantly. If both orchestras were being paid for the amount of notes they were playing, they would be billionaires!

The programme, consisting of Prokofiev’s 1st Symphony, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge by Britten, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.4, welcomed an atmosphere of sweet intensity, with dulcet melodies flowing from one player to the next, but sudden changes to apparent dissonance, with power and dynamism.

I really enjoyed the first piece, the Prokofiev, as it was short and really highlighted the Russian traditional dance feel for me. I could of almost imagine sets of Russian girls in traditional dress, dancing round the cellos and behind the basses, and along towards the first violins, especially in the third movement.

Although I thought impossible, in the last movement of the Shostakovich, I actually managed to edge onto the edge of the edge of my seat! Ridiculous as it sounds, there was just such an extraordinarily broad spectrum of character, range of dynamics and both orchestras together created an astonishing sound, which I will never forget.

All three pieces carried an incredible ambience throughout the length of the concert, and showed a huge range of style and character, especially in the Shostakovich.

Hannah Morrison


Well, here we are and what a performance! Two undeniable titans of the 20th century, Prokofiev and Britten. Two passionate orchestras, proudly representing their pieces, at the end, joining to perform the breathtakingly intense Shostakovich symphony 4. It's no wonder that the audience were silent during the pieces, we were stunned!

Prokofiev Symphony no. 1, a charming and witty piece and wow did they capture the feeling of it! The light and crisp nature of the Mariinsky orchestra was perfect, as well as in the more lyrical passages. There were some messy moments, however, it was such a captivating performance that I don't think I dislike the piece as much as I used to! Electrifying conductor, Valery Gergiev, continues, as a meteor of manic energy in the Britten's Variations of a theme of Frank Bridge as him and the RSNO travel through different soundscapes of violent impact and lingering unease.

Now, picture this, you're highly regarded by Stalin as a composer which is a ticket to keeping your life safe and in one premiere of an opera, he's written a review about how much of a disgrace your music is, this is what Shostakovich faced. As soon as those grotesque screeching chords smack you, your stomach churns, feeling it all. To say this was a performance wouldn't be do it justice, this was a jarring and monstrous experience from start to finish. When the instruments faded and we were left with a haunting silence, I believed, such music transcends words...

Ethan Gillespie


Two renowned orchestras, a programme celebrating two great 20th century composers with deep roots in the Festival, and Russian maestro Valery Gergiev at the helm. A packed Usher Hall eagerly awaited the opening notes of one of this year’s classical music Festival highlights.

First, Prokofiev’s 1st Symphony - a witty, classical-esque piece composed in 1917. After an untidy start, the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra were off and conveyed the youthful piece with exceptional conviction. Moments of magic followed and orchestral control was admirable.

Next, Britten’s ode to his composition teacher Frank Bridge, performed by the RSNO. An intriguing piece with each variation capturing differing aspects of Bridge’s character. The performance captured the evocative soundscapes, and Gergiev’s ability to create beauty in even the quietest shimmer of sustained strings was remarkable.

Post interval came the pinnacle of the evening’s programme. Shostakovich’s 4th Symphony with the combined orchestral forces of the Mariinsky and RSNO. The shattering climaxes and grotesque harmonies did not disappoint and the shear orchestral power was staggering.

Excellent control on all parts painted every shade on the musical spectrum. The ending was perhaps the most magical moment - delicate strings and a lonely celesta leading to stillness. Rapturous applause followed as Gergiev held the score above his head in awe of the composer, Dmitri Shostakovich.

All in all, a memorable performance with many inspired moments where two orchestras breathed musically as one. This was an emotionally stirring programme, passionately led by Valery Gergiev – a master of musical communication.

Jorren Dykstra


A concert which captivates the attention and which inspires such awe is nothing short of remarkable. The Mariinsky orchestra sprang to the stage with an organic chemistry, playing with a contagious energy the first quavering notes of Prokofiev’s symphony. This dissipated as the RSNO entered somberly, with Benjamin Britten’s ‘Lento Maestoso’. Driven by the bass, each note carried a dark gravity and was fully expressed. I felt solitary amidst the ocean of that sound, which caressed the swell of the strings. This intensity culminated in a profound realisation of ‘Funeral March’, the airy hum of strings and resin, somehow distant and unsettling. And so, both orchestras assemble for Shostakovich’s early 4th Symphony, a tumultuous often suffocating work which, played so dynamically, captivated the settling crowd in seconds. A mesmerising dialogue between woodwind and strings lead the symphony through volatility and staggering catharsis. During that final shattering crescendo breath was an afterthought. As this final movement drew to an end, the celesta chiming poignantly, the audience, gripped by technical brilliance, fixated on conductor Valery Gergiev whose seismographic sensitivity was evident in those silent moments. There was a pause of perhaps thirty seconds, but this place was outside time. A tide of applause, headed by eruptions of ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ seemed a fitting show of gratitude for what was a transcendent performance.

Joe Kaczynski


As I nestled myself into one of the small seats located in the upper circle of the theatre, I looked down on the orchestra waiting patiently for the award winning Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev. When Mr Gergiev finally appeared on the stage he was met with an uproar of applause from the audience, and after viewing his skills in leading an orchestra, I can understand why. The first piece they performed was written by Sergey Prokofiev. The symphony was incredibly enjoyable and although it was named ‘classical symphony’ it still felt exciting and inventive. The second piece the orchestra performed was ‘Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge’ by Benjamin Britten. I was impressed by this piece due to the incredibly varied use of stringed instruments, such as the use of cello plucking to create an ominous undertone or the muted strumming of the violins which added some spice to the performance. Another one of the compositions Mr Gergiev and the orchestra performed that thoroughly interested me was ‘Symphony Number Four’, which was written by Dmitry Shostakovich. I enjoyed this piece thanks to its intense range of themes and emotions, which ranged from soft and serene to the extravagantly extreme. It was as if I was experiencing the effects of some great tragedy which is unsurprising as the symphony was heavily influenced by the purges that Russia experienced at the hands of Stalin.

Sam Harland-Sendra


On arrival at the Usher Hall, I was immediately greeted with a powerful sense of trepidatious excitement, the chatter from the waiting crowds speaking of a great event to come. I knew from this point onwards that I had come to see a concert a concert at the top of the classical music game.

This was, of course, contrasted by the hush of 2,200 people (after giving both the conductor and the musician a warm welcome) as they waited for the orchestra to begin. And begin they did with [symphony 1], a light, flighty piece, the rapid tempo brining to mind imagery of a hunt, or a chase. There were points, where it slowed for effect, which allowed further appreciation of the faster moments. The conductor managed to make it all the more lively with excess bravado and skill.

The second symphony, ‘Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge’, by Frank Britten, was far more tense and discordant. The orchestra used their instruments in a number of different ways, which was definitely pleasing to see.

Finally, the two Orchestras came together to play Shostakovich’s Symphony No 4. The epic combining of the two musical bodies seemed to be echoed in the music, and epic, thrilling piece, which enormously powerful climaxes. I felt this was an excellent end to a very much excellent evening of music.

Torben Melohn


Whilst undeniably superb, it was not solely the remarkable musicianship exhibited by all performers on stage which lent tonight's performance its overmastering sense of grandeur; in tandem, it was the uniquely unsettling nature of the scores themselves that so engrossed the audience. 

As a gentle, if a little reserved introduction, the first performance (Mariinsky) served its purpose exquisitely as a precursor to the markedly less conservative second (RSNO) and third (both). Concluding the night’s rendition, RSNO and Mariinsky in collaboration provide a fitting close to a profoundly emotive performance, warranting the 30 second window of silent inward contemplation in the hall before the first claps were heard.

Despite the thrilling drama and histrionics of the second half, it was the RSNO’s performance within the first that stands the show’s focal point. Instrumentation contrasted and conflicted in a manner such that one could not help but find themselves quite physically involved in the pulse of the wavering rhythm. As lonesome meandering solo strings converged, atop a drone of disarray and glorious dissonance, they dared each other higher until both fell to the tone of a perfect cadence. The mischievous, satirical, profoundly self-aware hearkening back to recycled themes and familiar motifs throughout poked fun at convention, likening tropes to trash, mocking the accustomed with discordance and underpinning it with a visceral creeping sense of dread.  An experience across both the immediate and meta plains of understanding, each and every person I sat with tonight left satisfied by high art made uniquely accessible.

Philip Brown


Worlds collided with symphonic fury as two great orchestras performed to the Usher Hall.

Of course, before one takes precedence it would be unfair to say that audience or critical ear could find significant fault with either orchestra.  Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony No.1 and Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations were performed in strident harmony by their respective orchestras. 

The Mariinsky kept perfect flow with the slightest hand movement of conductor Valery Gergiev.  Prokofiev’s piece embodied the very essence of classical music, using traditional styles he later shrugged off for the more audacious style he employs in ‘Romeo and Juliet’.  The strings and high-pitched woodwind danced to their own music, equally able to deliver stirring crescendo and poignant eloquence.

The RSNO, performing a piece by Britten, lacked none of Mariinsky’s capability to display the rousing and brash; they performed a resplendent array of musical narratives.  However, it seemed at times disjointed, the climax of one phrase clashing subtly with the approach of the next.  Gergiev seemed more a director than a fellow artist at times.

When the two finally played together, differences were forgotten, as the sound and fury of Shostakovich’s gargantuan Symphony No.4 filled the hall and deafened the audience.  It moved with outrageous ferocity from explosive refrains of brass, drums and cymbals to the single striking of a triangle. 

The piece and the experience ended gently, like the aftermath of a great story and the consideration of what every note meant.

Kat Robertson


The Edinburgh International Festival is a unique opportunity for musicians across the globe to collaborate. This performance was a perfect example, with two phenomenal orchestras coming together under charismatic Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev.

The pairing certainly did not disappoint, with the highlight being a rousing finale of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.4. It was immensely powerful and left the audience perched on the edge of their seats.

The evening began with Prokofiev’s Symphony No.1 in D ‘Classical’, which acted almost as the calm before the storm. The Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre certainly lived up to expectations with their magnificent rendition of this complex piece.

In stark contrast, the RSNO then performed their rendition of Britten’s Variations of a Theme of Frank Bridge – and the Usher Hall filled with an intense, ominous, thundering atmosphere. Gergiev, as ever, was a passionate presence, adding elements of spectacle and suspense to the music.

Stalin would certainly not have approved of the tremendous performance of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. Uncle Joe infamously walked out of his opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, calling it a ‘muddle of music’ and branding the composer an enemy of the state. Perhaps this is why this symphony initially took so long to be performed. Tonight, however, the unique combining of the two orchestras really worked, accentuating the piece’s thunderous drama and turning a great night into something genuinely extraordinary.

Ben Cummings


The Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra began proceedings with a symphony that in the initial stages, brought a light, welcoming atmosphere. The precious playing of the strings accompanied by the innocence of the brass and woodwind creates a somewhat false sense of security as we are then whisked away on what feels like an intense chase. The aggressive and demanding crescendos completes the second half of what I think is a beautifully contrasting symphony.

The Royal Scottish Orchestra was next with a tense, nervy piece which expressed this via its use of pizzicato playing technique. Due to the lack of woodwind and brass for this section, visually there was a fantastic synchronisation of the strings. I especially loved the uncertainty throughout the piece that kept us all seeking a resolution of some sort, although it did perhaps drag on towards the end.

The third and final piece was the largest, longest and my personal favourite. The chaotic, complex nature of this piece blew me away and the use of the timpani drum was enough to give me Goosebumps. And the quick change to the transparent, ghostly feeling that the woodwind created was reflected in our nervy expressions. I couldn’t help but picture a battle ground as I listened to this piece and the Q&A between the brass and woodwind perfectly summed up the organised chaos Gergiev so exquisitely instils within his orchestra.           

Photo credit
Mariinsky & RSNO © Beth Chalmers