Symphony orchestra’s triple dose of tragedy

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Horsham Symphony Orchestra opened its 2015-16 season on Saturday 26 November at The Capitol with some of the most exquisitely tragic pieces written for orchestra, inspired by Shakespeare’s tale of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

The opening bars of Prokofiev’s ballet suite enforced a mood of nervous exhilaration, as a battery of brash dissonance twice dissolved into a cathedral hush of sustained strings.

The following tense melody of ‘Montagues and Capulets’ – known to many from the titles of BBC TV series The Apprentice – was similarly energised.

The orchestra does loud very well; however, conductor Steve Dummer could have guided his players to intensify the emotional contrasts of the rest of the suite through more sensitive dynamic contouring and attention to textural detail.

Occasionally such moments surfaced in Berlioz’s ‘Scène d’Amour’, whose richer lyrical passages compelled Dummer to abandon the baton for more expressive hand gestures.

After the interval, the audience was treated to an excerpt of Shakespeare’s own balcony scene (performed with youthful realism by two students from Guildford School of Acting, Katy Ellis and Harry Cooper), which provided a calming focus before the raw energy of the final showdown – Bernstein’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ from the musical West Side Story.

Despite all its rhythmic intricacies – interweaving elements of classical modernism, Latin American genres and jazz – the orchestra pulled together to make this euphemism for interracial violence and loss pure gold.

It was especially heart-warming to see the four young percussionists letting rip on drum kit, bongos and even a police whistle with visible enjoyment: I can think of no better introduction for budding instrumentalists to the world of orchestral music!

At the beginning of the concert Dummer introduced Adriano Adewale, the Brazilian composer with whom the orchestra will shortly begin work on a new commission as part of Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme.

This will be a fantastic opportunity for our local orchestra and is testament to its enthusiasm for programming lesser-known and more modern classical works over the recent years. I look forward to hearing the results at their concert in July 2017.

By Louisda Jones,