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Proms 2009: Prom 34 – Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto \ Julian Rachlin \ Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

August 10, 2009

Twenty minutes before Prom 34 I found myself in the bar asking my Proms Cohorts whether it was normal for me to feel as unenthusiastic about the prospect of another concert as I was at that particular time. A small glass of house red seemed to be doing nothing to lift me from my fug. I was fearing my love of the Proms was on the way out (assuming it hadn’t deserted me already).

The group reassured me that at this point in the season – four days before the half-way point – my feelings were quite normal. There is a natural lull it seems, one which I’m told will pick up as when the visiting orchestras descend on the Royal Albert Hall and we skid inexorably towards the conclusion.

Tonight’s band was a visiting orchestra as it happened, one with a Ukrainian conductor making his Proms debut. Maybe tonight’s show would do the business. Maybe tonight would see my much-sought after Proms “thrill”.

The first half – Stravinsky’s ballet The Fairy’s Kiss – was unlikely to hit the spot. I went into it with all the best intentions, encouraged by season ticket holder Scott’s obvious enthusiasm for Stravinsky’s music. But something just didn’t work for me. It certainly wasn’t the band. It wasn’t the conductor either. It was probably the score (itself reasonably OK). The score just left me feeling a bit cold. Nothing to spark my interest or get me thinking.

By the end of the first half I was looking forward rather more to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto after the interval. It’s a tub-thumper after all. No-one doesn’t like the Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky can be relied upon. It’s a goodun.

Lithuanian born soloist Julian Rachlin obviously had every intention of doing something a little different. Whilst he remained true to the programme, there were some in the arena come the end of the third movement who felt he may have strayed a little too far from the score . At the end of his 35 minutes on stage, his risk-taking with speeds was interesting, thought-provoking and (given how close some of the Prommers armed with their scores were to him) brave.

The roar of approval from the audience masked the debate which kicked off as soon as Rachlin turned to shake the conductor by the hand. Some people smiled, some people applauded raucously while others showed their dissatisfaction. Was it risky? Was it daring? Did it work? Or was it just plain wrong? I was a little bemused. I rather enjoyed it.

I can’t attribute the viewpoints – there was no time to get names and write them down given the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra had some excerpts from Khatachurian ballets to get through before the concert was over.

Some might share @chriskeating’s assessment (“tchaikovsky concerto 4/10” and “a dreadful interpretation”). Personally I really appreciated one man having the balls to come on stage and do something a bit different with a concerto I’ve heard played many times the same way before. His performance grabbed my attention, made me listen hard and hugely appreciate his risk taking. A performance which also provoked quite a lot of debate at the end.

And frankly, that is precisely what I was looking for twenty minutes before the concert.

Special mention goes to the string section in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra who – in my unsolicited and beige opinion – provided the best string sound I’ve heard all season. And this compliment is in no way influenced by the glare thrown to the arena by the lady with glasses sat on the second desk of the first violins post-Tchaikovsky. Well done them. Lovely job indeed.

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One Comment
  1. David England permalink

    This is a very fair and objective appraisal of the concert. I’m glad you’ve got something good to say, especially compared with the whingers elsewhere.

    I was dying to know why the lady with glasses on the second desk of the first fiddles had a much more comfortable chair than the rest of the section.

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