BPO – Short Ride in a Fast Machine – Clark Rundell (conductor), Joanna MacGregor (piano)
Wow! What a start to a season! John Adams vigorous fanfare, ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’, really wakes up an audience and the BPO was pumping energy into the hall. Insistent, percussive strings, hysterical woodwind and bright, brash brass – it was four and a half minutes of musical caffeine.
After that we were ready for the Music Director herself, centre stage for Gershwin’s piano concerto in F. She was as highly-charged as ever. It was her Sunday afternoon and she was going to enjoy it – we were along for the ride. It was half an hour of extraordinary delicacy and power and the orchestra kept pace with her drive. A special mention must be made of John Ellwood, whose laid-back trumpet in the second movement still maintained the tension. We certainly needed our interval break.
Stuck out in the back of the Circle, Mr Ellwood was also the star of Charles Ives’ ‘The Unanswered Question’. While the strings, resolutely ignoring clumsy audience coughing and thumping, played calm, sustained chordal progressions, he interrupted with his exposed and discordant theme (the question) and the four flutes made their disjointed replies, each time seeming more insane. This was four and a half minutes of mysterious anxiety that filled the Dome from all sides.
The final work brought all the frantic elements of this programme together. Bernstein’s ‘Symphonic Dances from West Side Story’ distil many of the best tunes from his Broadway masterpiece in an explosive cocktail of violence, dance and that sublime anthem ‘Somewhere’. The brass were again brilliant, of course, but this work showcased all the sections of the orchestra. Like firecrackers, the woodwind sent off thrilling little riffs; the strings were chameleons, often rich and syrupy or pert and playful, and sometimes taught and aggressive (be careful that John Wilson doesn’t press them into Sinfonia of London); the enlarged percussion section were kept very busy and almost stole the show. Clark Rundell’s steady hand kept the mayhem well under control, even when the audience burst into premature applause, and he brought us to a poignant conclusion with the ‘Somewhere’ reprise. It was the audience’s turn to go wild!
The Dome was not full enough this sunny afternoon but there were plenty of attentive children in the audience, and that is a very good sign.
8 October 2023