Edinburgh classical music lovers are having a feast this week after the barren days of September. Thursday night saw a superb concert with Mitsuko Uchida and the SCO, and today we have the RSNO with the brilliant young Canadian violinist, James Ehnes, and star international conductor, Edward Gardner.
The programme opens with John Adams, an overture—or in the composer’s words an “out-take”—from his opera Nixon in China. Adams is well known as a minimalist composer, along with Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, but as Adams describes it, became “bored with minimalism”, and this work, The Chairman Dances, is certainly much more than the minimalist repetition with which it begins. It soon expands into a much more colourful and melodic work that uses all the orchestra’s instruments, including an augmented percussion section and a piano. The work’s idea is that Chairman Mao comes to life from a giant poster to dance with his wife Jiang Qing, to music from a wind up gramaphone. The work is great fun and provides a lively overture to the concert.
The concert continues with a much better known work, Beethoven’s wonderful violin concerto, played by fine young violinist Ehnes, who displays great skill, melody and passion, and reminds us how wonderful this work is: strange to think that it was neglected for so many years. Ehnes is rewarded by warm applause from the audience and rewards us with an encore of part of a Bach sonata.
The concert concludes after the interval with Sibelius’s great Symphony No 2, written at a time when Finland was under threat from Russia. It is often referred to as his Liberation Symphony, and uses Finnish folk songs and speech patterns to illustrate his nationalistic themes.
The orchestra are expertly led by conductor Gardner, who we remember well from his recent triumphant conducting of Peter Grimes at the Edinburgh Festival. Under his expert baton, the RSNO gives a vibrant, colourful account of Sibelius’s work, which ends in a triumphant climax with lots of brass! It sends us out into the night with a feeling that Friday the thirteenth was lucky for us!