Live Review: BSO – Life Over Death
Clemence Smith writes a review of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
On Wednesday 24th of February, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) performed Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony “Pathétique” at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre. With such fantastic concerts right on students’ doorsteps, I would encourage whoever reads this to give classical music a try, even if it isn’t something you usually gravitate towards.
Classical music exists in a strange dichotomy in the minds of many. On the one hand, some pieces such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons are ubiquitous in popular culture, and familiar to many. On the other hand, consumers of classical music are often seen as out of touch with younger generations.
Admittedly, classical music can seem daunting to the uninitiated. However, the phrase “classical music” is misleading, as it combines centuries’ worth of genres, forms, and styles. Classical music, much like its listeners, is not a homogenous entity.
Many students listen to classical music as they study. World-class pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim argues that classical music demands to be listened to, instead of merely having it on in the background. Attending a concert, then, is a great way to encounter orchestral works, as you can devote yourself to the music without getting distracted by your surroundings.
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (founded in 1893) tours around the southwest of England, providing access to classical music that might overwise be scarce in this region. Award-winning Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma played Sibelius’ violin concerto, and I particularly enjoyed her rendition of the piece’s third movement. Lamsma expertly handled Sibelius’ wavering melodies that steadily build towards a breathtaking climax.
The concert’s standout piece for me was Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony. The orchestra perfectly captured the piece’s swelling sounds, playing with hair-raising intensity that even brought tears to my eyes at one point. I think that this symphony, along with the BSO’s rendition of it, encapsulates the best that classical music can offer. The music strikes an emotional chord in its listeners – even Tchaikovsky thought this was his best work. Moments of ecstatic beauty sharply contrast with awe-inspiring depictions of pain and suffering.
In the intermission before the symphony, a member of the audience objected to the choice of programme in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that same day. The man in question proclaimed that “celebrating” Russian culture in this context was somehow immoral. Gergely Madaras, the conductor, put him to shame and handled the uproar with class and sensitivity. Madaras argued that Tchaikovsky’s work is the epitome of Slavic culture and should not be discarded due to present conflicts. Insinuating that playing Tchaikovsky’s work is synonymous with endorsing Putin’s actions is preposterous and shameful.
If anything, the arts help us make sense of difficult times. Tchaikovsky’s Sixth explores the depths of what it means to be human, and the range of emotions one experiences when coming to terms with the inevitability of death. The almost minute’s worth of silence after the Symphony ended was a poignant reminder of the many innocent lives already lost in the war, as the music’s pulse slowly faded away.
I highly recommend giving the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra a chance, as they regularly perform at the Exeter Northcott. Don’t be put off by the clichés often associated with classical music. Even if some aspects of it remain elusive, remember that the most important thing is how the music makes you feel. Keep an open mind and heart: you might be surprised to find that classical music isn’t so boring after all.