Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra – Fanfare for the Common Man

The Autumn season started with a bang – or rather with a thunderous crash on the timpani, bass drum and tam-tam. The brass took over and Aaron Copeland’s epic fanfare launched the show with style. Copeland’s elegant ballet music ‘Appalachian Spring’ relaxed the tension and concluded with a beautiful calm, suitable for a Sunday afternoon.

Joanna MacGregor

Then BPO’s dynamic Music Director Joanna MacGregor improvised a double-act with conductor Sian Edwards while her piano was being positioned. This helpfully augmented her full programme notes and brought the audience even further into her fizzing enthusiasm.

The full orchestral version of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ had all the power Joanna had promised, and she didn’t hold back at the keyboard. The scene was set by Fiona Cross’ wonderfully louche clarinet glissando which had all the other players grinning, and they weren’t the only ones enjoying it. We’re lucky that the piano was still intact by the end, it was such a thrilling performance. The applause was almost as loud! The slightly dishevelled soloist quickly returned, without her jacket, to play a super-charged version of ‘I’ve got rhythm’,  not so much an encore than a necessary discharge of energy!

In what is now an established tradition, the second half began with Joan Tower’s ‘Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman’, which is possibly even more exciting than the Copland, if not quite as loud. Then in contrast John Ellwood (trumpet) and Clare Hoskins (cor anglais) came to the front for Copland’s wistful ‘Quiet City’. It’s extraordinary how those two otherwise dissimilar instruments can sound so well together.

Gershwin’s ‘Catfish Row: Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess’ has all the best bits of that wonderful opera and some stuff that often gets overlooked. I’m so glad we were given those extra insights earlier. The BPO’s new leader, Ruth Rogers, opened the ‘Summertime’ sequence with an exquisite solo. By way of extreme contrast, the banjo in ‘I Got Plenty of o’ Nuttin’, played with brio by Martin Wheatley, added a touch of the exotic.

It was clear that the orchestra were really enjoying the whole programme, as of course were the audience. This exciting repertoire is attracting a younger audience and younger players, of very high quality (Sam Staples and Daniel Stroud). After all the recent restraints and restrictions this bodes well for the future.

Brighton Dome,
2 October 2022
Rating: ★★★★★
Andrew Connal

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