Ayres No.42 (In the Alps – an animated concert) / Brahms Symphony No.1 / Aurora Orchestra

The Aurora Orchestra are rocket fuel for the UK classical music scene.

The most exciting orchestra around – the Aurora Orchestra – is brimming with youthful vigour and drive. A reflection of their tousled conductor Nicholas Collon no doubt, whose enthusiasm, charm, and poise is underpinned by a powerful vision and enviable self-belief.

Richard Ayres comic melodrama No. 42 (In the Alps) combined silent movie visuals with chamber orchestra and voice, in an engaging piece of entertainment. Ayres’ efficient story-telling supported a pacey plot, suggesting a context for the inspiration Brahms found for the fourth movement horn solo of his first symphony. A pleasing flight-of-fancy that made for a compelling programme. Ayres deploys an inventive, rich, and resourceful compositional technique and creates a sophisticated piece of entertainment – a gateway for the wider repertory.

Aurora’s performance of Brahms 1 had a sense of urgency about it. It was brisk, taut and precise too. There might even have been grit too (though my plus one for the even thinks there are negative connotations with the word grit). Standing up and playing from memory – the band’s USP – meant that everyone had the space to express. The sound was expansive, the dynamic range breathtaking, and the resulting applause unequivocal and insistent.

It’s a treat to see so many musicians so engaged on the platform, not only with their conductor, but with one another. The players engage with the audience. We engage with them. Everyone ends up leaving the concert venue having had a riotously good time. The Aurora Orchestra conjure up something magical on stage.

Special words should be committed for some cracking programme notes: unorthodox design, playful, and utterly refreshing. Lovely work people. Lovely work.

The Aurora Orchestra are appearing at the Grange Festival from 25 June in a production of Britten’s Albert Herring conducted by Steuart Bedford.

NYO Winter Concert 3 January 2016 Personnel List

Review: Prokofiev 5 / Korngold Violin Concerto / Nicholas Collon / NYO

I first heard the NYO back in 1990 in a performance of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations. A year later the band introduced me to Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in an electrifying performance at the BBC Proms.

Twenty five years later, the next generation of talented teenage musicians delivered a blistering performance of works by Tchaikovsky, Korngold and Prokofiev at at the Barbican, in a performance dedicated to the orchestra’s founder Dame Ruth Railton born in 1916.

Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet Overture made for an ambitious start but gave the orchestra a chance to get used to the acoustic deadened by the capacity audience. Ensemble work from the brass was amazing; the timpanist’s contribution was Herculean.

The reduced forces for the Korngold Violin Concerto were balanced well with soloist Tai Murray’s sweet tone in what was a spirited and assured performance. The ensemble captured the pastoral tone of the first movement without being overly sentimental; the exquisite second movement was suitably golden. Rapturous well-deserved applause rang around the Barbican Concert Hall after the final movement. At no point was there any hint the soloist had to compromise with the band. An electrifying performance.

Similarly, conductor Collon only had to coax the players through Prokofiev’s 5th symphony in a stunning performance which saw the orchestra’s ranks swell once more. The opening of the first movement was expansive and visceral. The terrifying precision of the strings in the second movement was underpinned by a tight percussion section and some seductive legato from the woodwind. Whilst the third started tentatively, the strings achieved a dream-like quality when the whispered waltz made its final appearance. The fourth started with some ravishing emsemble work from the cellis. The conclusion was a blistering tour de force.

NYO gigs are tricky things to write about. What should we focus on? Marvel at teenagers doing a miraculous job? I prefer not. The measure of a good NYO gig is whether or not you can forget the players are the age they are. I did. This was a remarkable gig.

BBC Radio 3 recorded the concert for broadcast on Monday 4 January 2016. 

The National Orchestra of Great Britain is sponsored by Quilter Cheviot Investment Management