Well known for their ambitious programming, Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra continued the tradition with an “All American” concert last Saturday at their new home, Warwick Hall. Adams, Gershwin and Bernstein brought the US flavour; English composer Peter Hope provided his American Sketches.
John Adams is one of a group of composers known as minimalists, most certainly in the early part of his career. The Chairman Dances are taken from his opera Nixon in China, one of his very earlier career highlights. The full WSO complement is required for this challenging, ‘very-difficult-to-play’ piece; in addition one of the largest percussion units ever assembled at Warwick Hall playing 18 different instruments captured the attention of many as scraping sandpaper blocks and marquetry chimes playing began the concluding bars, leaving Robert Ramskill at the piano with the unenviable task of tenacious decision-taking with the final disparate notes. Adams’ deserved recognition for this extract from his stellar opera received a warmish reception. Many in the audience will have seen the opera live and reflect that the stage performance was more memorable. Warmer receptions were still to come for firm favourite Rhapsody in Blue and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.
Malcolm Forbes-Peckham took to the piano to play the much-loved Gershwin favourite. With two prominent alto saxophones supporting the enthusiastic brass section, a pleasing chemistry between guest conductor Philip Mackenzie and the soloist, and, with the strings happy to have left behind the tricky pizzicato playing demanded by Adams, this was a joyous performance – and an opportunity for the audience to enjoy the interval.
Bernstein’s thrilling music from West Side Story required audience participation and a thorough induction programme took place before the orchestra launched into the nine individual dances. WSO has tackled some mighty pieces in the second halves of their concerts - notably Shostakovich. Perhaps the audience was ready for a mighty challenge rather than the lighter Symphonic Dances.
WSO is clearly looking to the future with the recruitment of young players; what a good experience for local sixth-formers to enjoy playing in the string sections.
* The concert took place on March 10. See wso.org.uk for details of future concerts.