dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Scandinavian musicians banish the chill factor
Celebrating their 70th anniversary this year, Iceland Symphony Orchestra have embarked on their first UK tour, taking in Birmingham Symphony Hall. The city certainly had icy weather to welcome the Scandinavian orchestra but the musicians, under the baton of conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, rapidly warmed up the evening.
The programme began with a selection from Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suites, a mix of light-hearted and reflective pieces originally written for a play. The five chosen pieces gradually build until they reach the Farandole in which the music bounces back and forth between woodwind and strings until reaching a crashing finale.
Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was commissioned by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein after he lost his right arm during the First World War. Although Wittgenstein was initially dismissive of the piece, it picks up and shakes an audience from its first sombre tones. And pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet attacked it with gusto, balancing expertly with the orchestra to ensure we heard both its drama and its melancholy.
Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Aeriality was commissioned by Iceland Symphony Orchestra and premiered in November 2011. Aiming to reflect the experience of gliding through the air, it involves the orchestra in a merging of tune with many of the instruments being played in a mass of sound. It's not going to be to everyone's taste but the Symphony Hall audience ensured Thorvaldsdottir, who was present, received plenty of applause.
The headliner of the evening saw Iceland Symphony Orchestra turn to fellow Scandinavian Sibelius for his Symphony No 1. The work's seemingly simple beginning in the hands of the clarinet belies the forthcoming complexity as Sibelius brings us a sweeping symphony with a touch of the romantic.
The evening was a mix of influences and Iceland Symphony Orchestra were just as expert in the contemporary as the classics. To round off the performance, the audience was treated to an encore which this time picked up the best of British with pieces by Elgar and Walton. The orchestra were clearly enthusiastic to be in Birmingham so hopefully we can welcome them back again soon.