A feast of 'European Classics' and a UK premier composed by the soloist. The London Firebird Orchestra celebrate to their first performance to a full audience since the pandemic.
Attending a London Firebird concert from the opposite side of the podium for only the second time last night, it felt strange to be sat their with paper and pen in hand and not my cello and bow. The hall was completely packed with what seemed to be London's biggest Yury Revich following.
The programme began with Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin. Immediately the orchestra created a serene, relaxed atmosphere developing some beautiful swells indicative of that impressionist French style.
Throughout this opening piece the orchestra produced some brilliant characterisation: from the romantic opening movement to the cheeky second, ending with real gusto and oomph in the final movement. Principal oboist, Izy Cheeseman, who - in what she later described as 'basically an oboe concerto' - managed to navigate some tricky balancing to cut over the orchestra with beauty and finesse. However, the joy of the London Firebird Orchestra is the opportunity they provide for bridging the gap between conservatoire and the profession. Last night's orchestra were young. For many this was only their first or second Firebird and this was evident in the orchestral sound they created. Although impressive with their fortes the quieter sections for me grew thin lacking that core sound and warmth that moments in the Ravel really needed.
As the soloist Yury Revich came on stage the crowd irrupted. Phones were raised high and chatter was uncontrollable with the excitement this Austrian violinist caused. His opening cadenza, with deep, sonorous tones in the lower register and delicately well placed rubato had the audience and myself hooked! His ability to create such warm rich sounds on the g string and risky (but brilliant) use of dynamics would continue throughout the concerto much to the delight of audience members. Clearly more comfortable in the flashy passagework, his quieter passages created a whole new sound-world far removed from the excitement. Although his vibrato in these moments was too active for my particular taste, there can be no question that his music phrasing was to die for.
The first violins matched Yury's enthusiasm in the orchestral tuttis spurred on by their formidable concert master, Calyssa Davidson. But the orchestra and soloist often felt like two separate entities throughout much of this concerto and there seem to be a hesitancy to follow the direction the soloist wanted to move towards.
In a change to the programming order, Yury delved straight into his new piece Awakening - a UK premiere. Described beforehand by the 'eco-conscious musician' as being 'inspired by nature', the imagery conjured up by the music was particularly illustrative. Opening with one of the most descriptive sunrises I think I've ever heard, it was clear to see the influences behind this composition. What can best be described as a mix between Vivaldi's four seasons, the 2Cellos rendition of Thunderstruck and every good film score released in the past ten years, this piece was a real crowd pleaser with plenty of flash and hair tossing.
The audience for this concert were an excitable and rowdy bunch, harking back to those we're told about in Mozart's day. Yet you were sometimes left wondering where the orchestra fell in their level of priorities. Kept waiting on stage ready to play at the beginning of the concert for the audience to stop chatting and take their seats. The second half left trumpeter Louis Barkley performing a fanfare to get the audience's attention. When even this had to be repeated it was no wonder the swift start to the Schubert left not just the audience but the orchestra scrambling for the opening bar. Unfortunately this resulted in the orchestra taking a few bars to settle in but their Schubert had some really beautiful moments.
Having opportunities for young musicians like this is crucial (especially in an over-crowded London) and it was such a joy to be sat on the other side of the baton for this performance. The potential from these musicians is clear to see. I look forward to watching how this orchestra grows and develops throughout the next season.
Until next time,