The audience filled the hall of Durham Johnston School on 16 June, for Durham University Palatinate Orchestra’s Easter term concert, showcasing the wide range of talent of the Symphony and Chamber orchestras. A varied and enjoyable programme was performed, encompassing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Glière’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Stravinsky’s Firebird.

The first half of the concert featured the symphony orchestra alongside some special guests; pupils of St Margaret’s Primary School, Durham. This enlarged orchestra was conducted by Matthias Lichtenfeld and led by Chris Savage.

The concert began with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel. However, this rendition came with a twist, as pupils of St Margaret’s had combined efforts with composer and principal cellist, Rob King. The children produced various pieces of artwork and used their inspiration to produce alternative music to each promenade interlude. Each of these were performed by both the children and DUPO together, which was a delight to see.

The piece began with the original promenade. The balance between the string and brass sections was particularly good in this movement. One of the most impressive aspects of this performance was how consistently well each instrumental section performed, with every soloist executing themselves impressively. The melody was in constant flux, offering a great insight for the audience on the capabilities of each instrument.

one of the most impressive aspects of this performance was how consistently well each instrumental section performed

A particular highlight was the movement named ‘Mauve’, which was controlled well by Lichtenfield, with particularly excellent entries from the saxophone and bassoon. The ‘Bydlo’ movement was another favourite, with a well performed horn solo by James Bailey. The augmented 2nds during the ‘Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle’ were a clear feature of this movement’s exoticism, with the atmosphere effectively dying away through great dynamic control. Credit to King’s excellent compositional writing must be given for his incorporation of nursery rhymes, popular songs (such as ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love during the ‘Mauve’ Promenade) and extended techniques in the string writing. The ‘Silver’ promenade was entertaining, with the ‘sonic impression’ and organisation of motifs being enthusiastically performed by the young instrumentalists. I thoroughly enjoyed the entirety of this performance, with the new compositions giving a unique aspect. There were very few noticeable errors, and this was to no detriment to the success of the performance.

The second half of the concert brought even more delight, as the Chamber orchestra took over the stage, conducted by Hugo Jennings and led by Millie Harding. They began with Glière’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, joined by soloist Hannah Ambrose. Ambrose’s virtuosic performance displayed excellent breath control and projection throughout the performance. The continuous Vocalise was a spectacular effect, with Ambrose’s beautiful phrasing and stage presence maintaining the audience’s attention during the entirety of the work. The orchestra’s accompaniment was expertly controlled by Jennings, flourishing at moments, yet keeping at an appropriate dynamic for Ambrose’s voice to shine through the texture. The performance was well-received by the audience and was a captivating interpretation.

Ambrose’s beautiful phrasing and stage presence maintained the audience’s attention during the entirety of the work

Stravinsky’s famous Firebird followed, with the chamber orchestra performing the 1919 suite. The introduction featured the lower strings and trombones, creating an anticipatory atmosphere. Harmonic glissandi in the strings further built the tension. Smooth melody exchanges featured throughout, and dynamic range during string tremolo were controlled excellently by Jennings.

The end of the Ronde des princesses was gentle and contained, before an abrupt contrast to the drama of the Infernal Dance. Although there was no audience scream, they seemed to be listening with rapt attention throughout and the excitement of the work was most certainly felt. The Infernal Dance was very exciting and here I felt the orchestra really captured the spirit of Stravinsky’s Ballet, with their excellent rhythmic precision bringing the music to life. Jennings deserves credit for his virtuosic conducting style, particularly in the last movement, where his passion and flair provided an emotional and inspiring end to the concert.

My overall impression of the concert was extremely positive, particularly appreciating DUPO’s admirable attitude towards outreach. Seeing so many children involved in a large-scale orchestral project was wonderful and the enthusiasm on stage (and in the audience!) was infectious. Credit should go to all involved in facilitating the concert, particularly to the conductors and exec for all their hard work. Additionally, congratulations should go to Rob King for his inspiring work with the children and to Hannah Ambrose for her excellent solo performance. I look forward to seeing DUPO’s future projects, which will commence again in Michaelmas term.