Thomas Søndergård is a fine young Danish conductor, who has become a regular at RSNO concerts as their principal guest conductor. Next year, he takes over as the RSNO’s Music Director, and will conduct ten concerts as part of a very interesting programme. This certainly is many more than outgoing Music Director, Peter Oundjian, though to be fair, he has had some medical problems. It is clear that Søndergård has established a strong rapport with the orchestra, and enjoys talking to his audience before and during the concert. Tonight, he tells us how terrified he was as a young percussionist, playing tonight’s main work, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben: not surprising, as it does demand a lot of the percussion section.
The concert begins with Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, played by the brilliant young pianist, Sunwook Kim. He shot to prominence when he won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006, aged only 18, where he played Brahms’ First Piano Concerto. Since then, he has played with many of the leading orchestras in the world, and has begun to record many of the great piano concertos.
The Brahms concerto has often been thought of as a love letter to Brahms’ great love, Clara Schumann, and it is certainly full of lovely music, particularly the slow movement, where there is an intimate dialogue between the cello and the piano. Kim plays this with great delicacy, but is also very fiery in the conclusion of the final movement.
The main work of the evening, after the interval, is Strauss’s mighty Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), which details the struggle of our hero as he makes his way through life, coping with enemies, friends, battles, peace, finally reaching fulfilment. It is a very big work, almost an hour long, and there are 105 musicians on stage to bring this mighty tone poem to us. Søndergård and the RSNO are apparently recording this work, and on the basis of tonight’s concert, it will be well worth getting. The work also gives us a chance to hear the wonderful leader of the RSNO, Maya Iawabuchi, in extended solo playing, as well as the skills of the many sections of the orchestra, particularly the brass.
The concert gets a great response from the Usher Hall audience, who are reassured that the orchestra is in good hands with Søndergård. Next season’s programme, just released, promises to be an exciting journey.