Review: Andreas Ottensamer makes UK conducting debut with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Last night Andreas Ottensamer made his UK conducting debut with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Mozart and Mendelssohn. The concert ran to just over an hour, was performed to an empty auditorium due to current COVID-restrictions, and streamed live via the BSO website.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with Andreas Ottensamer is available to watch on-demand until 21 May.

Ottensamer & the BSO

Ottensamer is a youthful presence on the stage with a long frame and more than a whiff of Hector Berlioz about him. Bold gestures and long sweeping movements spanning a near 180 degrees, with a smooth and precise baton technique that caresses and cajoles, are where Ottensamer thrives.

Broadly speaking, Mendelssohn’s music – both the Hebrides and ‘Italian’ symphony felt like a better fit for him in terms of physical expression, where Ottensamer appeared more at ease with a greater range, and more flexibility in his upper body.

There were occasions during the Mozart Haffner when his communication felt a little like he was appeasing rather than directing, as though there was a need to manage the transition from player to conductor.

Similarly in the ‘Italian’ when viewers saw him readying the orchestra before embarking on the final movement. Naturally, the band needs to be ready before they can start playing music, but maybe some of the excitement about the work as a whole is the energy that is maintained throughout. In order to achieve that does the transition between third and fourth movement need to be commanded rather than guided by consensus? I’m not 100% sure. What I appreciated was how the performance made me pose the question to myself.

There were ensemble discrepancies between wind and strings, and in the strings in various places, notably in the second movement of the Haffner – a case of distancing amplifying slightly ambiguous direction. I even wondered whether the strong beats were at the eye line for the front desk but not necessarily visible by those at the back.

But one has to be mindful that these are not exactly the best conditions for a relatively inexperienced conductor. The important point here is that a musician with a considerable worldwide reputation was doing something live amid difficult circumstances.

All this said, there were some touching moments throughout, notably in the third movement minuet of the Haffner which was warm, expansive and, where called for in the score, had a gratifyingly chamber-like feel.


The sound mix from the BSO is by far the most authentic of the digital streams I’ve watched over the past few months, partly because it’s a live relay. This provides a true reflection of the some of the challenges faced by distanced playing, noticeable in ensemble between the strings and winds at the beginning of the Haffner and Mendelssohn’s Hebrides. That unintended consequence is an authentic trigger for in-person concert experiences where not every performance is perfect.

But that authenticity comes at a cost. The lack of an audience means a boomier auditorium ambience. That created moments in the Hebrides Overture (where the tempo necessarily adopted so the detail wasn’t overlooked) that felt like heavy weather (forgive the pun). In loud-tutti sections the first violins felt distant and overpowered.


When BSO began their live streams (in September of last year) they did well to establish themselves as one of only a handful of orchestras that truly performed as live. This made the visuals less of a problem for me because I was experiencing a live moment. A few months later now that other orchestras have used their ACE funding to create more polished pre-recorded ‘as live’ and patched digital concerts, so the visual discrepancies in BSO’s live relay are more evident and, in some cases, interrupt the viewing experience.

Some small adjustments only need to be made to improve the look and feel. Specifically, using hard cuts between shots rather than cross-fades (cuts reduce the pixellation caused by compression when two shots blend). This would help compensate for the challenges of distanced playing, especially in the faster seqeunces. The final movement of Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ would undoubtedly have benefited from fast cuts at the end of phrases in order to increase the excitement articulated in the chuntering string lines.

There are fixed shots that might benefit from being adjusting in order to improve the focal point in the image. Sometimes there were shots where the focal point was a microphone on the stage. This jarred when transitioning from the previous close-up of the principal second.

There are also moments in time when cutting back to the conductor for the upbeat (or a split second before the beginning of a new phrase) needs to be tighter so as to now crash the previous musical idea coming to an end. This would limit visual interruption.

The image contrast in the wide shots probably drives the current orange bias in the shots, hence why I wonder whether a spot of colour grading (or changing the white balance) might help create a more cinematic feel, reducing the gap between BSO’s output and say the OAE’s.

User Experience

Where BSO is consistently reliable is undoubtedly in their digital user experience. Page design is uncluttered projecting a fresh unpretentious image of the band. The copy is clear, informative and useful, and bold navigation with clear white space guides the user. This establishes a perception of product reliability, and brand openness and accessibility.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra sells 16K digital tickets plus a new season for 2021

Kudos to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for stepping up to the plate and releasing their digital ticket sales figures for their Autumn 2020 season: a useful benchmark which can help producers get a sense of what defines success in the digital realm.

The near-16,000 digital tickets sold for twelve concerts is impressive because it has surprised me. There are assumptions held (we all do it) about the age of an audience, their tech-savvy-ness, and/or their willingness to convert to the digital experience. Given that the capacity of the Poole Lighthouse is 1500, selling 16,000 tickets is an impressive win.

A lot of that depends on what those tickets were – season or individual events – of course. But the bottom line is, its an impressive start. And by sharing it with the wider world, an important strategic point is made: there is still an audience for this, this still matters to communities, and we need to get the concert halls open.

The BSO announced today a new season of concerts for the new year.

Highlights include the UK premiere of American composer and DJ Mason Bates’ Auditorium and the continuation of the Orchestra’s Voices from the East series, with performances of Nurymov’s Symphony No.2 (UK premiere), Rimsky-Korsakov’s rarely performed Symphonic Suite ‘Antar’ (Symphony No.2) and Penderecki’s Prelude for Peace.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner will conduct Brahms and Schumann, and there are welcome returns for Marta Gardolinska, David Hill, Karl-Heinz Steffens and Mark Wigglesworth.

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor returns as Artist-in-Residence in a recital programme with duo partner violinist Hyeyoon Park. Horn player Felix Klieser makes his UK concerto debut, and there are performances from mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston and pianists Stephen Hough and Sunwook Kim.

Listings below. For boooking and more information visit the BSO website.

6 January (Lighthouse, Poole)
Kirill Karabits conductor
Ravel — Le tombeau de Couperin
Couperin — Suite from L’Apothéose de Lully
R Strauss — Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite
[*pre-recorded performance]

13 January (Lighthouse, Poole)
David Hill conductor
Jennifer Johnston mezzo soprano
R Strauss — Träumerei am Kamin
Mahler — Songs of a Wayfarer
Brahms — Symphony No.2 

20 January (Lighthouse, Poole)
Karl-Heinz Steffans conductor
Fauré — Pelléas et Mélisande Suite
Beethoven — Symphony No.3 ‘Eroica’

27 January (Lighthouse, Poole)
Mark Wigglesworth conductor
Wagner — Die Meistersinger Suite
Vaughan Williams — Symphony No.5

3 February (Lighthouse, Poole)
Kirill Karabits conductor
Copland — Fanfare for the Common Man
Mason Bates — Auditorium (UK premiere)
Gershwin — Catfish Row: Suite from Porgy and Bess

10 February (Lighthouse, Poole)
Kirill Karabits conductor
Borodin — In the Steppes of Central Asia
Nurymov — Symphony No.2
Rimsky-Korsakov — Symphonic Suite No.2 ‘Antar’

17 February (Lighthouse, Poole)
Kirill Karabits conductor
Felix Klieser horn
Mozart — Horn Concerto No.4
Bruckner — Symphony No.0 ‘Nullte’

24 February (Lighthouse, Poole)
Sir John Eliot Gardiner conductor
Stephen Hough piano
Schumann — Genoveva Overture
Brahms — Piano Concerto No.1

3 March (Lighthouse, Poole)
Marta Gardolińska conductor
Schubert — Symphony No.3
Liadov — The Enchanted Lake
Shostakovich — Symphony No.9

10 March (Lighthouse, Poole)
Benjamin Grosvenor piano*
Hyeyoon Park violin
Schumann — Kreisleriana
Clara Schumann — Romances
Cesar Franck — Sonata in A
[*Benjamin Grosvenor appears courtesy of Decca Classics]

17 March (Lighthouse, Poole)
Kirill Karabits conductor
Sunwook Kim piano
Beethoven — Piano Concerto No.4
Schumann — Symphony No.4 (original version)

24 March (Lighthouse, Poole)
Kirill Karabits conductor
Penderecki — Prelude for Peace
Haydn — The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross