The Durham University Hill Orchestra performed their Christmas Concert in Elvet Methodist Church, the ideal venue for their performed, and was lead by Zachery Hawkhead. The concert was sponsored by ‘Heads Up’ to raise awareness of the mental health and wellbeing of university students. The orchestra opened the concert with one of Tchaikovsky’s most well-known pieces, Waltz of the Flowers. Written in 1892 as the second act for his ballet The Nutcracker. The piece soon settled into the flow of the music, and despite some minor tuning issues the orchestra presented an engaging performance of this beautiful work. It was evident from the start that audience and performers alike were truly enjoying themselves, something which is especially nice to see in the musicians.
Continuing with the Christmas theme came Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Reed Flutes. An ideal piece to perform when having such a large wind section as the Hill Orchestra does. Like the previous piece, it did take a moment to settle, but once it had the audience were swept away in the melodies that cut through the pizzicato accompaniment.
Known in English as The Skaters’ Waltz, the next piece was composed in 1882 and was inspired by the Cercle des Patineurs or ‘Rink of Skaters’ at the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Emile Waldteufel’s introduction to the waltz can be likened to the poise of a skater and the rapid runs invoke scenes of a wintry atmosphere. The other themes that follow are graceful and swirling. Bells were also added for good measure to complete the winter scenery. The Hill Orchestra provided a very clear depiction of an ice skater and the character of the piece was portrayed to the audience beautifully. The acoustics of the church worked excellently with this piece.
To conclude the first half of the concert the orchestra performed the final movement from Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43. Started by Jean Sibelius in winter 1901 in Rapallo, Italy, shortly after the successful premiere of the popular Finlandia, and finished in 1902 in Finland. Sibelius said, “My second symphony is a confession of the soul.” This movement, inspired by Romantic music, is “Italian music gone North.” Kajanus wrote that the last movement “develops towards a triumphant conclusion intended to rouse in the listener a picture of lighter and confident prospects for the future.” Like the Skaters Waltz, the piece was suited to the acoustics of the venue and the orchestra worked towards a majestic and triumphant ending with soaring melodies to conclude the first half of the concert.
“The Blue Danube” is the common English title of “An der schönen blauen Donau”, Op. 314, a waltz by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II, composed in 1866. Any wobbly areas were soon forgotten when hearing the beautiful soaring melodies. Ross Norman, the conductor, kept the ensemble together and ensured that it didn’t drag, something which is notorious when playing waltzes.
A selection of traditional Christmas Carols followed to put everyone into the festive spirit. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was especially memorable with the beautiful melodies and magical ending. To conclude the concert on a slightly more jazzy note a rendition of the ever-famous Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson was performed. Contrasting vividly with White Christmas, it was beautifully articulated by the ensemble and contained a great deal of character.
A special mention must go to Ross Norman, who was very attentive and had clearly spent a great deal of time working on capturing the individual characteristics of the pieces and ensuring that no player was left behind in the performance.