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Proms 2009: Prom 26 – Mendelssohn Symphony No.1 \ Violin Concerto \ Isabelle Faust \ BBC NOW

August 5, 2009

Helen Roberts, sub-principal viola from BBC National Orchestra of Wales
talks BBC Training Orchestra, Beethoven and orchestral management skills
during the interval of Prom 26. (Thanks to @petergregson for his sterling efforts)


Last night’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall featuring the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the direction of conductor Thierry Fischer (and Isabelle Faust playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto) was a strange affair.

Not because of anything untoward going on on stage nor in the arena (excepting the fact that it was unexpectedly hot and my ear infection seemed to have finally and resolutely taken hold of me making the live performance experience a bewildering one).

Nor was my experience listening Mendelssohn’s first symphony for the first time. In case you’re interested in the back-story, I had been concerned I wouldn’t enjoy it. Everytime I’ve seen Mendelssohn on the programme I’ve assumed “That’ll be nice. Mendelssohn’s nice. You always know where you are with Mendelssohn.” Then I heard the Reformation Symphony and found myself squirming a bit. After the Hymn of Praise the other night, the Reformation was disappointing. Would I feel the same way about the first symphony ? As it turned out,  I didn’t.

Mendelssohn’s first symphony reminded me a lot of the scurring string symphonies the composer rattled off in his teenage years. When I started thinking about those string symphonies that’s when I started casting my mind back to the first time I heard them.

The English String Orchestra in October 1997. That’s where I heard them first, I thought, when I was working for them as an orchestral manager type person. I started flicking through images of the 6 months I spent there, thinking about the instrumentalists, the soloists, the conductors and the various venues we played in.

Then, as I stared at the stage from the fourth row, conscious of my ear infection and the increasing heat, my eyes stop at the front desk of the violas. Helen Roberts, principal viola of the English String Orchestra was playing second viola in tonight’s orchestra.

I couldn’t help myself. I may not have seen her for fourteen years, but in these situations I nearly always have to find the person and say hello. The fact I had a video camera in my bag was just an added bonus. Many thanks to @petergregson for his sterling if unexpected camera duties.

Listen to the first half of Prom 26 here with all it’s Mendelssohn loveliness.

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