Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra - standing ovation for conductor’s 40th anniversary concert

Review by Susan Fleet

Michael Stefan Wood
Michael Stefan Wood

For principal conductor of the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra, Michael Stefan Wood, his fortieth anniversary was always going to be special, but I am sure even he couldn’t have predicted how the packed audience would respond to the concert at St Andrew’s Church.

Three of the four pieces were acknowledged crowd-pleasers, but it was the fourth, lesser-known work that spontaneously brought the audience to their feet at the end.

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Wagner’s Overture to Tannhauser has always been a popular orchestral work and is regularly performed as a standalone work. From the opening bars, the musicians demonstrated their mettle and the brass entry was especially thrilling, ably supported by the soaring strings.

The overture gave the orchestra ample opportunity to showcase their light and shade and the woodwind and string sections shone throughout. The impressive clarinet solo passages were beautifully executed. The mighty crescendos were juxtaposed to the quieter sections and the flickering motifs added mystery and playfulness in equal measure. The brass came into their own in the last few chords, which almost lifted the church roof.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor is one of the best-known compositions in classical music and also one of the most frequently played symphonies. BHSO’s sure and impactful opening was followed by the exacting pizzicato sections, which put all the musicians through their paces. The final two movements were fulsome and culminated in a triumphal ending.

Originally written as part of a ballet by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, Adagio from Spartacus transported many of the audience back to the 1970s ‘Onedin Line’ and conjured up visions of ships sailing through mighty waves.

The solo passages deserve special mention.

The undoubted highlight was Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No 1 in A Minor, as evidenced by the audience reaction when 14-year old Aglaïa Carvalho-Dubost stepped onto the podium with the conductor. She performed with a maturity far beyond her tender years and not only delivered a spellbinding performance but also looked perfectly at ease fronting the orchestra in her first ever solo performance of a concerto. She had the skill and musicality to literally make her cello sing and the legato passages were sublime. There was sympathetic accompanying from the orchestra with an impressive lightness of touch when required.

It was technically demanding for all sections, but it was young Aglaïa who stole the show… what a way to celebrate her 14th birthday. To perform to such a professional standard will undoubtedly ensure a sparkling musical career for her.

Mike Wood should be justifiably proud of all he has achieved over the past four decades – his orchestra in turn honoured him by delivering a highly polished performance. Burgess Hill is indeed fortunate to have a symphony orchestra of this calibre. Congratulations and Happy Anniversary Maestro.

Susan Fleet