Sunday, June 15, 2014

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

15 June 2014

I don't think I've ever opened an orchestral concert by playing an unaccompanied horn solo, before last Saturday's Northampton Symphony Orchestra performance - and it's not an experience I am particularly keen to repeat! Have a listen to the start of Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Suite from the film 'On The Waterfront' on Spotify or YouTube and you might appreciate the terror I experienced on first seeing the music. The solo horn passage occurs three times in the piece and I can take some comfort from the fact that I think I played the second (slightly easier) solo perfectly, but my high notes in the other two solos came out strained and warbled. This being the opening piece of the concert, I can't blame any lack of stamina - it was pure nerves. I was slightly embarrassed to be asked to take an individual bow at the end - particularly as there were several other people (including Mara Griffiths, Kathy Roberts, Simon Cooper, Sian Bunker, Stephen Hague, Peter Dunkley, Ben Drouit and Naomi Muller) whose far more impressive solos in Saturday's concert did not receive such recognition. 

Fortunately, my trials and tribulations were completely overshadowed by a remarkable performance by the stunning young Latvian pianist, Arta Arnicane, whose playing in two Gershwin pieces, 'Rhapsody in Blue' and the 'I Got Rhythm' Variations for piano and orchestra, brought the house down. Her encore, 'The Serpent's Kiss' - a Rag Fantasy by William Bolcom drew gasps, laughter, rapturous applause and a standing ovation. Do take a look at this recording of Arta Arnicane playing 'The Serpent's Kiss' to get an idea of what we experienced on Saturday:

The American composer Ferdy Grofé is best remembered for being the orchestrator of the most commonly played version of Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' and for his lovely 'Grand Canyon Suite'. I first discovered the 'Grand Canyon Suite' in 2002 when we were driving from Washington State in the North West corner of the United States, through Idaho to Montana, with nothing to listen to in the car. We stopped at a service station and bought a cassette of American orchestral music which we played over and over on this long journey. Although it wasn't the terrain Grofé was writing about, I will always associate the 'Grand Canyon Suite' with the stunning scenery of Montana. We finished Saturday's concert with an impressive performance of the 'Grand Canyon Suite' with the donkey leading us 'On The Trail' recreated by a violin, a bass clarinet and two halves of a coconut. 

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