Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique

I had been looking forward to this programme for some time, not least because the Berlioz has a spectacular cornet part, but also because there is so much happening in this extraordinary work; there are also so many things going on at once in this symphony to concentrate on.

Symphonie Fantastique Rehearsal

Also, the RLPO always look forward to piano virtuoso, Simon Trpceski, returning; this time he will be playing the spectacular Saint-Saens piano concerto no. 2. This week’s programme will begin with the atmospheric Debussy ‘Ronde de Printemps’ from ‘Images.’

Quite a lot of just sitting around during the 2nd & 3rd movemnts

The first thing the first cornet player needs to know is whether the conductor intends to include the optional cornet solo written for Jean Baptiste Arban to display his amazing skills in the second movement of Symphonie Fantastique.

Vasily conducts his rehearsal

Actually, the cornet player does need to know, but he doesn’t want to ask the conductor, either, as the conductor might think ‘Oh, yes; that’s a good idea!’ After all there is enough to do as it is. So, I practice the part anyway, just in case.

Brendan's 'trusty' old cornet. Just where it should be during the 2nd Movement!

The optional solo comes up less and less these days. The piece is still a fantastic blow, with plenty to do for all brass players. Not least, the two ophicleide parts, now spectacularly played on tubas. Apparently, the RLPS still has an ophicleide. I must try to find out where it is during my rummaging through he archives and such…

The 'Bassty Boys!'

There is also much activity offstage, but unusually, this does not involve any trumpet players on this occasion. Ruth Davies, our co-Principal Oboist has to play offstage shepherd engaging in a Ranz-des-vaches in alternate dialogue, answering the calls of the cor anglais on stage. The other offstage sloist is Graham Johns, RLPO Principal Percussion, on the Church Bells, playing the Dis Irae in the forth movement.

RLPO Principal Percussion Graham Johns having a moment's repite during an otherwise busy rehearsal!

The RLPO has a set of six cast church bells, including a huge bell specially for Also Sprach Zarathustra. This equipment is prohibitively expensive and I am told that although the Society stumped up half the cash for the bells and the rest was paid for by no less than Libor Pesek himself!

RLPO Zarathustra Bell

Aside from church bells, two tubas and offstage oboe, there are two harps required, four bassoons, four timpani played by four players and a spectacular E flat clarinet part.

Four Kettle Drums - Four Kettle Drummers

Actually, my brother, a well known London percussionist, told me an amusing story about legendary percussionist, Gary Kettel, playing the church bells in an open air evening concert at Kenwood Bowl in London. In the rehearsal the conductor requested that the church bells be played further off stage in the woods. When Gary returned to play  during the second half of the performance, it had gone dark and he was unable to locate the bells in time to play!

I am always interested in how different conductors prioritise and manage the many musical demands of this complex work. The RLPO now trusts Petrenko completely and his interpretation was excellent as ever, as was his detailed rehearsal preparation.

The programme involved two days rehearsals, one at The Friary, the second at Philharmonic Hall and four performances: two at Philharmonic Hall, one at the Sands Centre in Carlisle and lastly at Preston Guildhall.

Another Full House for the RLPO

The paying public seem to have been eagerly anticipating the performances also, because all shows were sold out prior to the concerts taking place. This is a good sign for the RLPO in these uncertain economic times as the news we are receiving from other parts of the country are not as encouraging for attendances.

RLPO having a well - deserved spot of refreshment after the 2nd Philharmonic Show!

The two Philharmonic Hall concerts had gone brilliantly. The house was indeed packed and the audience would not let Trpceski off stage until he had performed two encores. A similar reception was granted the RLPO and Petrenko. The Liverpool audience has taken Vasily so much to heart that one national critic implored the audience here to ‘leave the poor boy alone.’

A particularly evil spicy bar of chocolate being passed about on the coach to Carlise by one of the trombones to liven everyone up!

For a basic analysis and Berlioz’s synopsis of this programme music, most readers will find this link to Wikipedia will suffice…

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique

An orchestra sized selection of 'Growlers' on display at Tebay services.

The trip to Carlisle the next day means a three hour coach journey from Philharmonic Hall to the Sands Centre. The lunch break is always at the magnificent Tebay Services en route: surely the undisputed King amongst all motorway service stations.

The orchestra was greeted in spectacular style by this magnificent Mini outside the entrance to the Sands Centre in Carlisle. One of our last visits here was during torrential floods in the town which had been attributed to a four hundred year old curse on the place by a clergyman. I listened in to the Terry Wogan radio show the next morning and one gentleman had phoned in to say, “… I too was cursed by a clergyman in Carlisle, twety five years ago; and I’m still married to her today!”

The Sands Centre

The Sands Centre normally operates as a leisure facility and large sports hall. The stage is a temporary affair and the offstage positions would have to be in the auditorium behind curtains.

The 'Bassty Boys' again

Here comes the 'retiring' Blyth Lindsay - without ba care in the world.

Clearly in such a ‘new’ acoustic the programme would have to be rebalanced at length, especially the piano concerto and the difficult off stage moments in the symphony..

Simon Trpceski & Simon Chappell having a laugh prior to the rehearsal of the Saint-Saens piano concerto no. 2

We couldn’t help the particularly ‘squeaky’ pedal on the supplied grand piano, during the rehearsal. However, it didn’t seem to bother Simon Trpceski. He just got on with it!

Simon Trpceski herded into a tight corner for his tea time practice session!

I was particularly impressed with Trpceski. Despite very trying circumstances he just got on with things calmly and retained his fantastic sense of humour throughout the proceedings.

Vasily Petrenko checks something out in the score.

The RLPO soon got used to the ambience of the hall and the rest of the rehearsal ensued. The orchestra broke for tea; this is when a unit, working together day after day just fragments and everyone goes their own way. Small groups go to restaurants, chip shops; some bring sandwiches and others eat in the front of house reastaurant.

The hall was packed for the performance. I don’t think the orchestra disappointed. After all the music had been well honed by this stage of the week. The Debussy, as ever, was well received. The excited public refused to let Trpceski leave the stage until he had played more. They went wild at the end of Symphony Fantastique also. Another satisfied RLPO ride home, albeit a three hour one. Another performance of this programme in Preston on Monday the 26th March.

Review – Liverpool Echo

About brendanball

Professional Trumpeter: Soloist, Orchestra Player, Chamber Music, Contemporary Music & Education.
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2 Responses to Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique

  1. Robin Bloxsidge says:

    It was a wonderful concert in Liverpool Brendan, and sounds as if it went down very well in Carlisle too. Hope it’s as successful in Preston!

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