Last Saturday, 19th November, the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra got their 2022/23 season under way with a trio of works that showed off their versatility and innate musicianship. Playing to a packed Medina Theatre, the concert kicked off with Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture”, a six-minute tour de force offering a combination of majesty and dexterity in equal measure. A magnificent opening trumpet fanfare was complemented by rippling strings and wind, supported by an organ-like bass sound. This grandeur gave way to an explosive array of agility as the music moved on at breakneck speed before that majestic opening returned, this time played by the full orchestra, giving way to a mad dash to the finish, although it must be stated the orchestra was very much in control!
It is testament to the quality of the island’s orchestra that they are able to attract some of the UK’s leading performers as guest soloists. It’s been a while since a cellist was centre stage, but the choice of Richard Harwood to play Dvorak’s “Cello Concerto in B minor” was inspired. It may seem a bit of a cliché to say that Harwood made his cello sing, but it is an appropriate metaphor and the most fitting. His technical wizardry is undeniable, and this concerto provides many opportunities to show that off in bucket loads, but the expressive, melancholic beauty of the second movement was a masterclass, not least the sublime playing at the instruments highest register, which had an extraordinary intensity to it.
As the orchestra’s Chairman, Tim Isard, noted in the preface of their impressive printed programme, this concert was the 25th anniversary of conductor Jonathan Butcher’s first appearance with the IWSO. Another anniversary being celebrated was that of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was born in 1872. RVW150 has seen a year-long celebration of the composers output with the release of a new biography, a plethora or new recordings and, of course, a host of concerts. As part of these celebrations the IWSO chose to perform “A London Symphony”. It was premiered in the March of 1914, just four months before the outbreak of the First World War. Vaughan Williams said this symphony was his favourite, although he tinkered with it many times before declaring he was finally satisfied with the third and final version in 1936. It was this version the orchestra performed on Saturday. As the comprehensive programme notes pointed out, listeners would hear the unmistakable sounds of the Westminster Chimes, the cries of the Lavender seller and even a passing hansom cab and its jingles, but what they could not convey was the incredible atmosphere this music would invoke, from fog-shrouded streets to distant sounds of traffic on the Strand or a Cockney spree (complete with simulated sounds of a mouth organ) to a turn at the Music Hall – yes, it was definitely “Have a Banana!”. Like the Thames itself, the music drifted out to sea eventually leaving only a silence…. And an audience caught in the moment.
There is an incredible array of artistic talent on the island, and the IWSO is up there at the top. Sponsorship from Wightlink is invaluable in helping the orchestra maintain the high quality of their performances. Their next concert on 21st January focuses on young talent when James Thomas wields the baton as a guest conductor and star pianist, and islander, Thomas Luke performs Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Tickets for this concert are now available here.