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Hastings Philharmonic, choir and orchestra, in full flow under Marcio da Silva's direction.

Hastings Philharmonic, choir and orchestra, in full flow under Marcio da Silva’s direction.

Beethoven and O’Meara help put Hastings Philharmonic firmly on the musical map

The newly reformed Hastings Phlharmonic, which now comprises an orchestra in addition to the well-known choir, had its first outing on Saturday 12 November at the White Rock Theatre. David Pullen was there to hear their rendering of Beethoven’s ninth symphony and a new choral work specially commissioned from Philip O’Meara. Photos by Justin Lycett.

To take on Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, as well as presenting a complex new work by Philip O’Meara, would be a big ask for any body of musicians, so let me say straight away that this really was a memorable concert for everyone there, performed to very high standards by all concerned.

The full orchestra, which was made up entirely of young professional instrumentalists, could easily have outshone the amateur (and dare I point out, on average, much older) choir members. But that was not the case, with energetic and incisive singing from the very large chorus, who were only hampered by not being sufficiently tiered up behind the orchestra to have the sort of impact on the audience that the orchestra and four soloists could make.

Of course a lot of that clarity and drive in the performance was down to the excellence of the conductor, who was not just totally in command of the complex music, but was able to transmit his vision of the music to the 150 or so people ranged in front of him. But what was really impressive was that whilst Marcio da Silva, rightly, provided a reassuringly clear beat, entries and dynamics to them, he was always thinking of the music itself, and so gave a compelling interpretation of the Choral – preceded by the thoughtful music and message central to O’Meara’s Remembrance work.

Before that new, and very heart-felt music, we were given an unscheduled performance of Bach’s Chaconne by Özcan Ulucan which was splendidly performed, although for me its rather cerebral, abstract and overtly complex palate was at variance with the more specifically colourful and emotional music that followed it.
O’Meara’s No Man is a seven-movement work, the majority choral settings of a variety of texts with a real feeling of freshness and life – which pleased and relieved me as there is too often a belief in this country that to be profound and reflective we have to be elegiac and nostalgic.

Vision of a better future

To genuinely express our distress at avoidable massive loss of life we need to resolve that these things do not happen again – we must have a clear vision of a better future, as yearned for in both the major works presented by Hastings Philharmonic on Saturday. Strangely the only movement that did not have a strong flavour of the English palate of composition (not that it was derivative) was the setting of Donne’s No Man Is An Island.

There was very good balance between orchestra and chorus in the work, with some solo interjections, and a brave reimagining of Schiller’s Ode to Joy which managed to allude to, but not parody, Beethoven’s universally known setting in the symphony that was to follow. All in all, a very worthy companion to the Choral symphony that had, for instance, the Ode to Joy sung in both French and English – a splendid antiphonal idea to remind us of one old hatchet now firmly buried, surely.

This conviction was to have been emphasised by the anticipated participation of a French choir alongside the Hastings Philharmonic. What a shame this demonstration of international brotherhood could not be realised for all kinds of logistical reasons. Still, the choir were fully up to the challenge of singing in different languages, and adapting to the varied music that went with it. It was an original, but not over-challenging, composition that I hope will get more performances. The imaginative and brave commissioning of the piece by Hastings Philharmonic was fully vindicated.

Revelatory performance

The Choral was not just splendid, but for me quite revelatory, as the lean textures available with a smaller than normal orchestra (the opposite is usually the case for performances of this work) rendered it far less monumental, with the joy and humour always at the front of the music-making even in the deeply moving slow movement, which I now know does not need serried ranks of string players to express its longing.

On the contrary, I felt that this wonderful performance emphasised how very forward-looking Beethoven was being. Weirdly, given later composers’ total commitment to more a homogeneous sound world, I could hear on Saturday many passages in the Beethoven that revealed a texture and sonority we usually think of as Wagnerian. Just a side thought – I’d be interested to hear any other ideas on that.

Nevertheless I am confident that everyone involved and every audience member present (but why were there not more?) was thrilled and moved, maybe inspired, by Saturday’s performance. Well done to all the performers – choir, orchestra, soprano Claire Egan, mezzo soprano Alessandra Fasolo, tenor Leonel Pinheiro, baritone Matthew Sprange and especially Marcio da Silva.


See also Hastings Philharmonic performs Beethoven’s choral symphony to announce its arrival

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Posted 15:14 Tuesday, Nov 15, 2016 In: Music & Sound

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