REVIEW: Season’s closing concert by Worthing Symphony Orchestra

Maria Marchant (Pianist). Photographed at Steinway Hall, London on the 9th June 2017 by Steven PeskettMaria Marchant (Pianist). Photographed at Steinway Hall, London on the 9th June 2017 by Steven Peskett
Maria Marchant (Pianist). Photographed at Steinway Hall, London on the 9th June 2017 by Steven Peskett
REVIEW BY Richard Amey. Season’s closing concert by Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Assembly Hall, Sunday 19 May 2024 (2.45pm); leader Julian Leaper, conductor John Gibbons, piano, Maria Marchant. Glinka, overture Ruslan and Ludmilla; Scriabin, Réverie; Chopin, Piano Concerto No 2; Brahms, Symphony No 1.

Schools Concerts: next season, I want to do not one, but three. Can you help us do this? We’ll be needing around £20,000. Roughly, the question which Worthing Symphony Orchestra musical director John Gibbons on Sunday asked the audience while announcing the orchestra’s next concert season. The initiative was greeted with spontaneous applause. Applause for the idea, probably masking apprehension about the wallet.

Later Gibbons said he had been approached during the interval by some people willing to assist. But, reading between the lines, not enough, of course.**

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The plentiful public classical concerts along the South Coast conurbation screens off the continuing lack of centrally ensured school music education and experience. Whatever is laid by visionary other countries, the British have to provide their own, in whatever form it can muster.

Since 2017 in Worthing, Gibbons has been trying to attack this lack by presenting to primary school ages an hour-long WSO orchestral concert with his own spoken educational introductions. Alongside in the town have been the International Interview Concerts since 2019. Neither body is government or nationally funded. Both face scraping together cash from nooks and crannies. Neither can hope to offset or compensate for the lack beyond minimal, let alone guarantee sustaining anything far-reaching. They can provide only an isolated flash to ignite child talent or stir virginal interest, and a repeat if the same child attends next time.

The WSO’s free annual concert by professional musicians for local school parties – filling the Assembly Hall with 800 children – is a drop in the ocean that Gibbons says he wants to swell to 2,500. The independently Worthing-conceived and -based Interview Concerts create performances, workshops or lessons by individuals or duos they take into schools, also free of charge. But dependent entirely on occasional input from any local community funding body they can interest.

Horsham-based West Sussex Music is a recovering pandemic-devastated charity, taking multi-genre instrumental, vocal and ensemble tuition, and staff development into some schools, and in follow-up providing up-front subscribed performance training at their own centres at Horsham, Bognor Regis, Chichester and Worthing (at Northbrook College and Bohunt School). The charity reckons to reach 25,000 children annually.

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Among the newly announced details of WSO’s next concert season, two 2018 finalists from WSO’s Sussex International Piano competition return again,. Following their Grand Final Concerto and each having come to perform another concerto with WSO since, Yi-Yang Chen will be over from Kansas City with Beethoven, and Rhythmie Wong from Hong Kong with Grieg.

Look out for the season brochure cover with the dancing, yellow shirted French oboist, Armand Djikoloum, from the Lyon and Saar conservatories. He’s pictured by the Estonian visual artist, Kaupo Kikkas, whose camera approach is stirring up classical artiste photographic representation. His surname resembles an appropriate American slang. Djikoloum, whose instrument has been tinting German concert orchestras and opera pits, will play the Strauss Oboe Concerto in WSO’s Remembrance Day offering.

WSO’s resonant and big-boned Brahms romantically brought their current season to the annual rousing closure Gibbons always intends. The professional players were on familiar ground in his First Symphony, the strings sounding well in the composer’s mellow yellow, the horns calling across the sea, Chris O’Neal’s Howarth oboe bringing the German emotional heart-piercing sound many listeners crave, who were seasoned by the strains of Heinz Holliger in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s numerous 1970s recordings.

I felt WSO leader Julian Leaper’s telling solo violin in the slow movement needed slightly more breathing space in the orchestral balance. It’s not a concerto solo but one does look forward to enjoying its profound and consoling presence in the texture – as in its ancestral example: the Beethoven Missa Solemnis Benedictus.

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But this was a singular quibble. Gibbons consistently gives you the music, free of imposition or eccentricity. A WSO children concerts favourite launched the show. The dash and colour of Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla pelted around the hall, Robert Millett’s timpani pounding, cellos and violas singing, Dave Lee’s horns and brass urging and celebrating with Russian energies that later shaped some of Tchaikovsky’s thinking.

These years at WSO, Gibbons likes to slip in a short, largely unknown lyrical gemstone from somewhere other-worldly. The audience now discovered that Alexander Scriabin is not to be feared in his four-minute Réverie. Nothing not to like. What it says on the tin. A daydream. The WSO’s ‘soft side’. A once celebrated composer later generations overlooked, but is now back.

Poetry in soundmaking it was, leading to a dreamy Scriabin influencer – young Fred Chopin, in Gibbons’ words, ‘the poet of the piano’. His Piano Concerto No 2, actually his first one composed – both were written at high school – was tasked to the engaging and newly popular Maria Marchant.

In a world of often statuesque classical piano playing posture, she’s a mover. Unafraid to de-rein physically her musical involvement, she gives the game away: she confirms she actually relishes performing for a living! And she likes Chopin. A career/lifetime ahead will reveal whether Chopin will draw from her a naturally organic maturation in interpretative flexibility. But she’s nailing the pre-requisites that convey this composer’s fearlessness of his own emotions, or its affect on his fans.

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The Concerto’s first movement has two long sections where the piano announces itself deeply personally, in a quiet voice which in the coming minutes grows and grows in confidence, strength, assertion and performing demand. Like a newcomer to the room who first speaks simply and unassumingly but with arresting gentleness and originality, then bit by bit in conversation reveals themself to be a master of elaborate emotional expression. Marchant made this happen before us and the WSO joyfully embraced that.

Salute Simon Chiswell’s plaintive bassoon replies to her second-movement discourse as virtually a Chopin nocturne unfolded. Full-bodied brooding from everyone expanded from Marchant’s muscular recitative proclamation, then subsided tenderly back into nightscape with a final Chopin signature ‘goodnight’ from Marchant . The finale’s vigorously playfulness – suddenly it’s morning and the mysterious guest begins dancing! – brought her into leader’s tune-calling. She was crisp, fluent and flickeringly aflame, and had in reserve the unreserved exuberant bravura of the final pages, racing off down the home road signposted by the triumphant horn.

Warm applause for her, and the customary floral basket soloist’s gift – whose contents I can reveal included some confectionary, toiletry, and a book about sea shells. I wonder if there’s also anything else in the wine bottle bag the male soloists receive.

One can’t sign off this WSO season without mention of the industry and stamina across all eight concerts of John Gander. It’s he who, inside each £3 WSO Concert Brochure, assembles from his own research composer biography and background, then the musical anatomical breakdown – all for the investigation, learning and enrichment of the audience. More WSO education work, and sometimes posing points to ponder.

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Sunday’s programme highlighted this quote: “If a genius such as Mozart were born today, he would write concertos like Chopin’s rather than Mozart’s.” The voice was composer Robert Schumann, one of European music’s leading observers back at the time young Brahms first surfaced in the wake of Mozart and Beethoven. Schumann knew about publishing market forces and fashion in music and, transferred to today, he sounds like an executive in a popular record company.

It made me question, if Mozart himself had been born now, the same person and artistic force, would he have ‘sold out’ and gone derivatively commercial, simply to feed all his family mouths? But instead made his first master-skilled million?

Richard Amey

**To contact WSO regarding financing of schools concerts, email [email protected]

WSO Season 2024-25

Sundays, 2.45pm at Assembly Hall. Season tickets via, 01903 206206 or Box Office Connaught Theatre. Individual concert tickets for students/Under25s and Parent & Child.

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October 20: Smetana, Bartered Bride Overture; Grieg, Piano Concerto (Rhythmie Wong); Schumann, Symphony No 4.

November 10: Jessy L. Reason, Lament (World Premiere); Butterworth, A Shropshire Lad; Stanford, Irish Rhapsody No 1; Richard Strauss, Oboe Concerto (Armand Djikoloum); Elgar, Enigma Variations.

January 5: Viennese New Year Celebration Concert; the Strauss family and contemporaries, plus other dances, marches and overtures – some of them Gibbons ‘finds’.

January 26: Malcolm Arnold, Cornish Dances; Khachaturian, Spartacus & Phrygia Adagio (The Onedin Line); Florence Price, Piano Concerto (Jeneba Kanneh-Mason); Coleridge-Taylor, Valse de la Reine; Bernard Stevens, Symphony of Liberation; Klaus Badelt, Pirates of the Caribbean.

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March 9: including Doreen Carwithen, Piano Concerto (soloist tba); Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings.

April 6, Haydn, Symphony No 30 (Alleluia); Arnold and Vivaldi, Guitar and Mandolin Concertos (Craig Ogden); Mozart, Symphony No 41 (Jupiter).

May 18: Mendelssohn, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture; Delius, Fennimore & Gerda Intermezzo; Beethoven, Piano Concerto No 3 (Yi-Yang Chen) and Symphony No 8.

A weekday evening concert and date to be announced, making an 8-concert season.

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