December 2nd – it’s official, the most magical month of the year has begun, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than with Durham University Orchestral Society’s Chamber Orchestra! Durham University’s most talented musicians and singers combined with an unbelievably well-thought-out programme (well done Josh Ridley), I must say that this was certainly a night to remember.

Let’s set the scene (for all those foolish people that didn’t buy a ticket and now feel like they missed out).

Castle Great Hall, beautifully lit with a hint of Christmas. A full and eager audience all patiently sitting and waiting for the magic to happen. An exciting moment of silence as the orchestra waits for the conductor, Josh Ridley, to lead them in. Then, as if from nothing, the woodwinds and strings play the first phrase of Mendelssohn’s The Fair Melusine and you can feel the whole room sit back and relax, knowing that they are in for a treat.

This piece was performed to an unbelievably high standard. The balance between the strings and the woodwind at the beginning was certainly well rehearsed and it was evident that every single player listened to their neighbouring parts, matching each other’s articulation and phrasing almost perfectly. The cellos entry certainly stood out for me, with great leading from Lizzie Orr, and I particularly enjoyed watching Sophie Hill and Charlie Criswell on clarinet, as their enjoyment of the piece was evident. Each theme was strong, portraying very contrasting, yet convincing, characters throughout. With this piece, I feel like it easily could have started rushing but Josh Ridley was fully in control and the whole orchestra followed him perfectly- a wonderful start to the concert.

Note to audience: yes, you were supposed to clap then. 

But never mind! Any doubting audience members (all of them) were immediately aware that we had moved on to Lyadov’s The Enchanted Lake as the atmosphere that was created here could not be described as anything other than enchanting.  A huge congratulations to Clemmie Metcalfe for leading the strings, it must be said that the string section has possibly never sounded better in my four years here at Durham and this was most evident in this piece. The precision of the tremolos and the muted tone created was breathtaking. The whole orchestra interpreted the dynamics and phrasing very thoughtfully and generally the balance between sections was good, although occasionally the strings were slightly too dominant as there were moments where instruments such as the horns couldn’t be heard. Apart from this, and the occasional intonation issue in the brass, this was a very professional performance and I’ve been listening to this piece non stop since.

Peter and the Wolf, what a fabulous choice! I think this was a childhood classic for everyone so it was such a pleasure watching it live. Jeremy Cowen and Charlie Criswell completely stole the show- they were both so expressive and their delivery was perfect (not to mention that they both had smashing outfits on). Forget the degree, they should go into voice acting. In terms of the orchestra, each instrument fully captured their assigned character. The Duck, played by Freddie Hankin, stood out for me in particular as he played with great emotion that I’m sure the whole audience could feel. There are very few things I can think of in terms of criticism for this piece. Some high notes in the strings needed slightly more confidence and intonation could have been improved upon, but otherwise this was a pretty perfect performance!

In Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, the flutes were absolutely wonderful. Ellie Holland and Georgie Proctor really captured the audience’s attention with their phrasing and carried the melodic line extremely successfully. The violins again were very accurate although there were a few very tricky fast moments that could have been more rehearsed, but considering how quickly this concert was put together they did an exceptional job.

Evan Penn’s horn solo really stood out in this piece as he played with great musical direction- even if he did pull a face afterwards, he had the audience captivated.

Five Mystical Songs by Vaughan Williams- what a perfect way to end the concert! George Evans-Thomas was an absolute dream. His voice was so powerful and yet he managed to convey so many different and delicate emotions. Watching him sing was a pleasure as he looked fully engaged in his character, expressing Vaughan Williams’ directions through his body language and facial expressions, not just through his music. When the choir first emerged it was a beautiful moment and their voices fit perfectly with the Castle Great Hall. The choir and orchestra complimented each other very well, although there was one moment where, combined, they were slightly overpowering and George struggled to be heard. Aside from this, the choir was a wonderful addition to the concert and watching the likes of Lydia Carr singing happily is always a treat.

The orchestra, particularly in the last piece, was very exciting to watch. Anna Gonzalez and Miranda Phillips on percussion are extremely professional and their concentration on the music makes the performance even more engaging. The double basses, Julian Windram and Sonia Sin, were also extremely powerful and worked wonderfully with the orchestra. A beautiful end to the concert that certainly left audience members feeling awestruck.

With an incredible number of concerts happening with Music Durham every single day, it is easy to forget that the music is the reason we go through all the stressful rehearsals, executive meetings and hard work of practicing and perfecting our instrumental parts. I would like to say a huge thank you to Alex Barker and the rest of the DUOS Executive Committee for being such a seamless and professional group of people, successfully putting together such an amazing concert, and then playing in it yourself. The talent that we see here, and in all other Music Durham societies in fact, is truly inspiring. Through this incredible performance, the University undoubtedly sees and acknowledges all of your hard work, and we can’t wait to see you again on the 11th of December.