A Bit of Scottish Charm

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Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Wed 19 Oct 2011

Younger Hall

To those who revere contemporary pop music, the sound of classical music may evoke archaic images of harpsichords, wild-haired composers, and, to the astute film-buff, scenes of Austrian extravagance in Milos Forman’s Amadeus. But through the modern interpretation of Mozart’s Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major, K16, Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F, Op 68, “Pastoral,” the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) seeks to illuminate the brilliance and beauty that is classical repertoire. Their Younger Hall concert on Wednesday, 19 October, succeeded to be both flawless in tonality and whimsical in performance.

The event opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 1, written by the composer when he was eight years old. With the first molto allegro movement primarily exhibiting the talent of the violinists, the second slower-paced andante movement did the same for the horns. The piece culminated with a quick collaboration of the two sections in a third presto movement. What was most engaging, though, were the eccentric body gestures of the conductor, Thierry Fischer. Bobbing his head and shaking his hair during fast sequences, and rocking left and right during string melodies, he assumed a passionate performance of his own. Indeed, the energy in his conducting gave vitality to the instrumentalists, who, rather than monotonously sitting upright, followed with their own sways with the musical phrasing. The performance thus became not only a take on early Mozartian music but an incarnation of the zeal that the musicians bring to their work.

The guest cellist, Pieter Wispelwey, furthered this notion of theatrics in playing. As the soloist in Haydn’s Cello Concerto, he capitalised on his central position to demonstrate the breadth of his capabilities. Along with impeccable technique, his solo included frequent smiles to Fischer, waving his bow in between phrases, banging his fingers on the fingerboard and grunting with the low notes of his cello. Chuckling ensued at the sight of his jumping in his seat in time with the swinging crescendos of the violins. His performance became an expression of him, and the audience, enthralled by his mastery, recognized this bona fide passion. Wispelwey received a prolonged ovation, ending only with his modest statement: “This is a nice place!”

Following a twenty-minute interval, the SCO concluded their concert with the event’s title piece, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. However, while they succeeded to portray nature through music, they could not emulate the dynamism of Wispelwey or return to their previous spirit at the beginning of the show. Indeed, with the late hours approaching, some elderly audience members began to be lulled to sleep by the gentleness of the flute and oboe scores.

One young girl in a purple dress, though, remained alert throughout this sequence. Made curious by the violinists, she began to draw a portrait of the principle second violinist on a sheet of paper. Later, during the allegro thunderstorm movement, she hopped in her seat in excitement at the booming cellos and basses. And at the closing applause of the concert, she curled up next to her mother, staring in awe at Fischer as he gave a thumbs up to his orchestra.

The SCO certainly won the praise of its adult audience members but to this writer, a violinist, the little girl demonstrated that classical music could still be enjoyed by young people. By continuing to employ techniques of visual entertainment in tandem with precise tonal quality, the SCO could garner a reputation not just as a prestigious orchestra but an accessible one as well. Classical music need not be equated with elitism; just like contemporary pop hits, it is an artistic expression that can be appreciated by both the young and old.

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