Revolution! The Hull Philharmonic Orchestra – Live Review – Hull City Hall
By Karl Hornsey, November 2017
The Hull Philharmonic’s final contribution to the 2017 City of Culture celebrations was a programme at Hull City Hall by Russian composers to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution. The sudden wintry feel in the air helped whet our appetite for this evening of music by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, and our seat in the higher echelons of the hall was perfect for taking in the scale of the performance and the sheer number of musicians required for the three rousing pieces.
With a classical concert there is always that feeling that one wants a mixture of popular pieces and ones that are fresh to the ear, and that is what we got in this instance, beginning with the crowd-pleasing 1812 Overture.
Tchaikovsky wrote this in 1880 to commemorate the defence of Russia against Napoleon’s invading armies and, while the composer himself claimed to be no great fan of the work, there can be no denying its popularity in modern culture, as its barnstorming style and bravura finale make it instantly recognisable.
While it would be asking too much to haul several cannons into the arena for the finale, this performance came up with a fitting touch, as 10 bass drums were beaten with relish and gusto by members of the City of Culture organising team and some of its army of volunteers. Such a wonderful idea provided a deeply personal touch, and the encore brought the audience to its feet.
The second piece had plenty to live up to, but it did so thanks to the prodigious talents of Callum Smart, who joined the orchestra on stage for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, which, following a relatively serene opening, builds to showcase Smart’s artistry of his instrument that has marked him out as one of the finest young performers out there.
While by no means a quiet and unassuming piece, this was definitely the calmer element of the programme, which resumed after the interval with Shostakovich’s 12th Symphony. Written in 1961, the symphony is divided into four movements, which proceed seamlessly into one another without a pause, with accompanying images on the big screen depicting key moments from the fascinating period of history 100 years ago.
Shostakovich was just 11 at the time of the Revolution, and the choice of this piece adds a thought-provoking element to the concert, with the composer himself often having to hide his true feelings when composing to avoid falling foul of the authorities. Under the baton of conductor Andrew Penny, the Philharmonic did the piece proud, again combining many nuanced elements and instruments together without detracting from any one performer or section, building to a stunning climax.
This was the first time we have had the pleasure of seeing the Hull Philharmonic live and there is no doubt we would love to see them again. The talent on show is of course undeniable, but there is an authenticity about them that is delightful, and the phenomenal range of ages is something that has surely helped with the orchestra’s longevity, with the young players enjoying a pivotal role in the evening’s entertainment.
Quite simply, they deserve their reputation as one of the leading amateur orchestras in the country.