REVIEW: Trowbridge Symphony Orchestra

Wiltshire Music Centre

WHAT do you get when you put two Russians and an American together? An ambitious concert programme, which was played by the Trowbridge Symphony Orchestra on St Patrick’s Day. The sell-out concert attracted both classical music superfans and total newcomers to the genre.

Under the superb leadership of violin soloist Carmen Tunney and conductor Phil Draisley, the show opened with a rousing and energetic performance of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 2. The opening brass and percussion sections transported the listener from the theatre surroundings to the sidelines of a Russian military march, and at the same time, to a quaint seaside bandstand.

Then came the famous waltz, which presented the audience with a more elegant, imperial ballroom atmosphere, and to which the better-seasoned fan would have felt compelled to hum, sing, dance, the list goes on. Here, the trombone section felt weaker, dominated by the superior saxophonists, but rest assured they found their feet again in time for the final movements.

The second piece brought in piano soloist Jacob Byrne, with whom George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was played. With just that immortal opening clarinet, you could close your eyes and imagine a solemn and sultry New York cityscape, the jazzy undertones leading you to a smoky speakeasy bar. The atmosphere noticeably fell with every piano solo, perhaps to illustrate the loneliness of that setting.

With Byrne’s appearance came two encores, one – Gershwin’s Chinese Blues – was of the soloist’s own transcription to piano duet, with which conductor Draisley had a chance to show off his own impressive skills as a pianist. This was then followed by a solo piece by Debussy. Overall, the performance was so well appreciated that there must have been six or more ovations.

To finish, the orchestra went back down the timeline for some true classical stuff, undertaking the daring Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. With the suite comes drama, romance and even hints of chaos, as you would expect to find in the thousand tales that the titular heroine told. Apart from a couple of off-time pizzicato moments in the first movement, the entire piece was performed perfectly. Orchestra leader Carmen Tunney illustrated the chaos in her violin solos with flawless speed and skill, while the brass sections – the trumpet and trombones especially – almost fearsomely accented the drama.

It takes a lot nowadays to convert a person to classical music, and this orchestra managed to do exactly that. This courageous programme was well worth braving the blizzards for. Bring on the next one.