Grace Notes: Tackling a Nielsen Symphony

Last Wednesday I took part in a concert at St John’s Smith Square with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra (YMSO – We were playing a varied program including Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Nielsen. This was a very challenging program and I hadn’t played any of the pieces before.

We began the concert with Le Corsaire by Berlioz which is a concert overture  (which means there isn’t an opera attached) written between 1844 and 1851 (there were lots of revisions). It’s a very fast and exciting overture with lots of bright and blazing string passages, enhanced by brass chords. The main challenge of this was the speed and when I was practicing I had to gradually increase  the tempo in order to be able to play this at the same speed as everyone else!

The other piece in the first half was the 1st Tchaikovsky piano concerto with Vitaly Pisarenko (a Masters  student at the Royal College of Music). This is a gorgeous piece and has lots of beautiful tunes that both the orchestra and the soloist play. The main challenge with playing any concerto is adjusting to how the soloist wants to play it. After we had played it once though, I found that I got used to all of the hold backs and pushes forward so it became a joy to play rather than a stressful experience.

The second half of the concert was Nielsen’s 5th symphony. This symphony has  only two movements, but there are very clear sections throughout these which make it interesting to listen to.  The symphony isn’t typically ‘romantic’ and there aren’t many tunes that would pass the ‘old grey whistle test’ , but Nielsen manages to create an amazing atmosphere and uses the various sections of the orchestra, such as the undulating violas at the start creating mystery and tension.

Overall , the concert went well and the audience really enjoyed all three works. The piano concerto was the best received I think, but that was possibly because of its popularity. Personally I think the Berlioz was my favourite to play.

*I don’t own any of the videos above, neither are they recordings from the performance. I just wanted to share the music that we played as I enjoyed it so much.

I’m really looking forward to the next YMSO concert in November where we will  be playing Bruckner’s 8th symphony. I’ll see you next week for a blog on a concert I’m taking part in on Thursday with Orchestra Vitae. It’s at 7.30 pm on 17th October at St John’s Smith Square if you fancy coming. The program includes Shostakovich, Brahms and Montague (with an 80 piece choir and huge percussion section) so should be an incredible concert! Hope to see you there.


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