Violinist Daniel Lozakovich and conductor Klaus Mäkelä with the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra

This was the first time I’d seen 25-year-old conductor Klaus Mäkelä on the podium. A remarkable presence, balletic movements, grace, elegance, and poise. If watching a conductor in action from behind can instill excitement and enthusiasm in an audience member what on earth is it like for the musicians?

There were dramatic dynamic shifts throughout this concert, but notably in the Brahms Violin Concerto with Daniel Lozakovich which combined with the rigorous attention to rubatos gave this performance space and time to explore detail without it turning into a long and drawn-out affair.

Lozakovich appeared to capitalise on the conductor’s love of extreme dynamic contrasts by making his own virtuosic moments focussed and ‘smaller’. This had the effect of drawing attention closer to the detail in the solo line – quite some achievement in the cavernous box interior of the Salles des Combins, especially when the rain started to fall on the venue’s stretched canvas roof and threatened to compete in volume with the cadenza.

I was especially impressed by Lozakovich’s maturity, his sincerity. At 20 years old I find that level of authenticity astounding and reassuring in equal measure (something for a Thoroughly Good Journal entry I suspect).

The second work in the concert – Schumann’s second symphony – saw charismatic Mäkelä in his element, directing the Verbier Festival Chamber Festival Orchestra in an electrifying performance. His trademark extreme dynamic contrasts were evident throughout, not least in the fiendishly tricky quiet opening andante that because almost imperceptibly.

The second movement scherzo was nimble with fast taut articulation in the woodwind (a terrifying part for the clarinets to have to tongue) and scurrying strings that made me think of Mendelssohn. The third movement adagio had a song-like quality delicately played with elegance and poignancy. Magical.

The concluding movement contained considerable industry but retained a sense of bounce and spirit. Splashes of colour where it was needed widened eyes and smiles.

It’s rare I get quite so excited about conductors but bearing in mind post-Brexit arrangements and the return of a more straightforward form of international travel, Klaus Mäkelä is someone I really want to see more of. A stunning communicator.

Watch conductor Klaus Makela and violinist Daniel Lozakovich in concert at the Verbier Festival 2021 via Medici.tv.

Pianist Roman Borisov plays Chopin, Brahms, Prokofiev and Bach at Verbier Festival 2021

Borisov appears on stage in a low-key understated way, shoulders slightly rounded, almost as if his clothes are a little big for him and he feels a little awkward. It’s an entirely different matter at the keyboard where he takes on an entirely different persona – mature, assured, and committed.

At times during this recital he demonstrated frenzied musicianship, also taking his time to hold the silence in between contrasting works. In this way he showed himself as an especially thoughtful performer bringing the audience with him on a mixed programme of Bach, Chopin, Brahms and Prokofiev.

The Bach F Major keyboard concerto first movement had a harsher fortissimo sound than I think I’d expected from Bach. Nothing but instinct to go on there in that assessment, but I wondered later in the concert whether this was a reflection of the performer getting accustomed to the setting, the piano, and the audience.

In the slower quieter second movement there were some gorgeous tender moments illustrating where Borisov felt most at ease at the beginning of the recital – quiet reflective passages. He is adept at placing pianissimo notes and chords, making the audience lean in. Come the third movement the balance between dynamics had been achieved – a calibration, if you like – that made the conclusion of the work more cohesive than the first movement. All very sprightly. Perhaps even fizzy.

The Chopin Ballade No.4 was captivating from the beginning, opening with a gentle movement that felt a little like a net curtain billowing in the breeze. Some loud sequences had a similar shrill quality to the opening of the Bach though it wasn’t quite so marked and maybe it was better suited here. Some of the epic sequences sounded a little muddy (a personal preference is always for clarity but this isn’t for everyone by any means). The epic multi-colour final minute came with clarity.

I didn’t really connect so much with the Brahms Klavierstucke so it would be disingenuous to write about it. The Prokofiev Sonata No.7 however, well that was an entirely different matter.

Here a commanding story was told from beginning to end. Percussive, dry and urgent playing in the opening of the first movement with a contrasting middle section full of different colours. Similarly comeplling was the third movement with its relentless repeating motif in the bass line. Prokofiev is where Borisov undoubtedly thrives. Some joyous fluid playing in the right hand – silky-smooth stuff. He is a master of decorative arpeggiated flourishes executed in such a way that they made me go wobbly at the knees every time I heard them. A real delight.

Back in Verbier

Heathrow Airport, UK to Verbier, Switzerland

I get that COVID has been bad for travel and airports and that. But why are there queues at check-in. Why? They’re only checking an extra bit of paper – to make sure people are double vaccinated.

Maybe it’s just teething troubles. Maybe it will iron itself out.

After waiting for an hour and ten minutes (and I got there at 5.30am) to get my paperwork checked, the rest of Terminal 2 was eerily quiet. Security people looked a little surprised or maybe even relieved to see me and the handful of others who passed through scanners. Poor loves.

Some things have changed in airport procedures, I notice.

For example, there’s now no need to put that poncy plastic toiletries bag separately in the tray. I was mildly discombobulated by this. Had to keep checking with the security bloke. He just waved me through eventually. And on the plane, the pochette contained hand sanitiser impregnated cloth is overwhelmingly effective judging by the state of my head after I’d finished wiping my hands. It appears I’ve found the acceptable way of imbibing before midday and with minimal impact on the liver. The way forward.

Now that Brexit is done I realise that I’m glaring at the EU queue at passport control at Geneva Airport. It’s much shorter. Us dregs have in comparison to wait a considerable time to get seen. Thanks Mr Farage.

But what this means is that I unwittingly overhear an artist in the Verbier Festival who was on the same flight commenting to a pal in the queue on how ‘If I do meet X at the festival I hope she’s not something completely different in real life. I’m not sure I could deal with that.’ (where ‘X’ refers to a classical music artist whose name I didn’t quite catch).

It reminded me how performers have their vulnerabilities and how readily us as audience members forget that performers are humans too like us. Just humans who are better at their scales and arpeggios than we are.

On to Verbier via two air-conditioned trains from Geneva to Le Chable via Martigny. I saw no-one on the train or on the various station platforms not wearing masks. The Swiss are it seems very obedient.

On arrival, I’m to go on a short walk down the hill to the COVID test centre in the pharmacy under the Migros supermarket. There a French man is waiting for his test results and overheard me say “Hello, my name is Jon Jacob and I’m here for a COVID test.”

“I predict that you will test negative,” he said to me holding his chin.

“Is that because I’m British?”

“Yes,” he replied.

I’m not quite sure who had the last laugh. I think he did (and rightly so). Everybody did laugh, even though I wasn’t quite sure who they were laughing at, truth be told.

As it turns out, I did test negative which is A Good Thing. This means I can now return to the UK on Wednesday.

Had it not have been for George the PR (who’s working on the Festival here) cycling up behind me on his electric bike when I headed back to the hotel with my carrier bag of supper, I would have missed the only concert I have tickets for to tonight (and the only one that is on).

“It’s at 8pm, isn’t it?”

“No,” said George, “it’s at 7.00pm. I’ll let them know you might be a bit late.”

(Next time Jon, re-read the schedule you were sent before you headed out. The one you printed?)

George and I confirmed the start time of the concert at 6.32pm. I hot-footed it back to my hotel by 6.37pm, ate a packet of wafer-thin ham, swigged some fizzy water, and then hot-footed it back down the hill juggling a notebook, two pens, facial wipes, water and mints, arriving at the concert venue by 6.55pm. I was in my seat 7.00pm.

Fortunately, both concerts tomorrow night are in the same concert venue so at least I know what the latest time I can leave it before heading off.

What Thoroughly Good does next

London, Heathrow

Bruckner 8 on Radio 3, later Barry Humphries talking about Jack Hylton on Radio 2. And after that Stunning Soloists at the BBC. Bruckner 8 is the surprising discovery. Not heard it before. The brass at the beginning of the final movement is electrifying. Packed full of drama. And as a complete work so much more satisfying than his fifth symphony which always feels like it just goes on and on.

I’m staying the night at Ibis Styles (I’m paying) before I head off to Verbier for a few days to go to the Festival there. I’ve come to Heathrow the night before because a) its a reasonably early flight b) it takes two hours to get from Lewisham to Heathrow and c) I’d rather do the journey the night before than the day of the flight, not least because d) Swiss Air advise passengers to be at the airport three hours before take off.

It’s the first time out of the country since October 2019 when I went to Yerevan to see the World Symphony Orchestra perform some music created by artificial intelligence (no great threat to any real-life composers) and a global medley. Back then it was the closest I’d been to musicians during rehearsal and the closest any musicians I know had been sat next to each other. It was an exhilerating trip. I’ve missed travel.

At the same time there’s a smidgen of guilt floating around. Budgets are tighter (inevitably) and instead of the usual three nights, this year it’s two. I’m in no way complaining about that. I quite understand. I’m grateful for any opportunity to break out of the usual surroundings to hear music in a different location. But I’m mindful that heading out of the UK for two nights to hear live music I could just as easily watch online could be seen not only an indulgence but a little foolhardy the state of things at the moment. (That said arrangements are tight what paperwork and testing and wotnot.)

So why go? Why not stay home? The answer is easier to answer after this past 14 months or so. During this time which I’ve been working with a coach to work out what ‘Thoroughly Good’ is, what my connection with it is, and what I want to do with it next. Essentially, what’s the plan for Thoroughly Good? How do I take this further?

TG started as a personal blog back in the black and white days of 2005. But sixteen years later it feels (even it doesn’t appear so) rather different. When I left the BBC back in 2017, I was surprised by its usefulness. I was amazed that people wrote to me about possible things to feature on it. In those heady first days of self-employment I began to realise that actually it was possibly a little more than just a personal blog.

The conclusion I’ve come to now is that Thoroughly Good as a destination or a brand or a name (however you want to term it) is something that advocates classical music in all its forms, or at least as many as possible. And that it does it in a way that is authentic and sincere with the sole aim of selling the joys of the genre to those who wouldn’t otherwise consider listening to it.

But what I’ve also come to realise is that I just want to be able to bring the things that I love into everyday conversation. I don’t want to dumb it down, simplify, avoid language just because of a falsely held assumption that people are put off by passion. I want to lead with passion, documenting the music that moves me and the classical music experiences that define and continue to influence me.

The reason I love jazz-funk is because of an old university friend introducing me to it whose enthusiasm for it was unequivocal. The reason I love the music of Sondheim is because my partner introduced me to it with a similar level of enthusiasm. And if it is that I only need to hear an author talk about the book they’ve written – the world they’ve created – that I end up wanting to read it, then why on earth can’t the same be done with classical music?

And that means hearing it live. That means soaking up the atmosphere created by the performers and the audience in different spaces. Sometimes that means heading out of London.

It also means talking about the music and musical experiences in a language that is true to me and might possibly resonate with others. It’s not as I’ve heard people in reasonably powerful positions in the media say to me a case of ‘the music should stand on its own two feet’ and ‘if we talk about music too much we’ll put people off’. Talk about the thing you love and others will love it too. That’s what I’ve come to realise these past fourteen months.

None of this is new especially. There have been elements of what I’ve been doing that have demonstrated this sense of purpose. I just haven’t really seen it until now. In fact, if I’m to be completely honest the imposter syndrome has got in the way for years.

For far too long I’ve accepted the thinly veiled criticism that if your publication has the word ‘blog’ in it then no one is going to take it seriously. I don’t think that now. Or at least I’m far more at ease saying that this is no longer a hobby, but a business. I see Thoroughly Good in its free-to-access forms like the blog or podcast as part of a massive marketing and PR strategy. Why wouldn’t you persist with a content stream if it means that it helps create opportunities?

And if ever there was a time to start documenting that experience so that newcomers might consider attending a live event or listening to a recording of something unfamiliar then its now, just as concerts are returning. It serves the classical music sector and it might just point a newcomer on a new journey of discovery.

Verbier Festival opens with Shostakovich’s Concerto for Piano and Trumpet and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony

The 28th Verbier Festival began last night with a concert featuring Shostakovich’s Concerto for Piano and Trumpet paired with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony.

Verbier whose video-on-demand service (via Medici.TV) is making all of the Festival available online for the 15th year, have a distinct advantage over other streaming platforms and arts organisations, capitalising this year on many years of technical and creative live-streaming experience.

This year’s opening concert from the Salle des Combins in Verbier produced by Idéale Audience was directed by Grammy Award-winning Jean-Pierre Loisil, had a far more intimate feel in terms of visual direction making more creative use of the myriad of the remote-controlled cameras that are dotted around the concert venue. In addition, the all-black TV studio interior of the auditorium created a highly focussed viewing experience too.

It may seem odd to start with the video production for a live stream concert, but it was this which was most immediate. After a year of live streams and YouTube Premieres of varying quality, this stream and its rich and detailed sound mix was a highly engaging watch, putting Verbier’s consistent and defining characteristic front and centre: the high calibre of performance.

The non-distanced orchestra and soloists play with such energy and attack in this performance, a reminder of what is lost with distanced playing. Contrast the fast-paced detailed articulation in the upper strings in the first movement with the delicate precision of the pianissimos in the final bars of the second movement. The string sequence at the beginning of the third movement has a depth to it I feel like I can almost touch as I listen.

The electricity is in full flow during the Prokofiev symphony. Lots of detail in individual lines – listen out for the break-neck articulation demanded in the woodwind throughout the four movement, and (my particular favourite) the seeming throwaway phrase in the violas. Elsewhere in the last movement, the upper strings are at their most fierce.

Perhaps finding this such an exhilerating watch shouldn’t really be quite as surprising as it is. The VFCO is made up of former members of Verbier’s training orchestra the Verbier Festival Orchestra – players who have gone on to perform with an impressive roster of the world’s most distinguished conductors and soloists.

Watch the Verbier Festival Opening Concert with Valery Gergiev, Denis Matsuev, Timur Martynov and the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra.


Listen to Verbier Festival Director Martin Engstroem on the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast

Verbier Festival changes its opening night

The Verbier Festival announced earlier today that its first-night concert has changed with the Verbier Festival Orchestra replaced by the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra. Soloist Denis Matsuev and conductor Valery Gergiev remain at the top of the bill. Trumpeter Timur Martynov joins for the concerts too.

The change ahead of the 16th July opening night is because a ‘small number’ of VFO musicians have tested positive for Covid-19 during rehearsals. Those in contact with those who have tested positive have themselves been placed in quarantine.

On the face of it such an announcement may not necessarily seem like a massive deal – just a reduction in numbers and a change of programme. But that change of orchestra highlights the precariousness of live performance right now, and represents money spent bringing together a symphony orchestra from across the world amid challenging travel restrictions, housing them, feeding them, and testing them.

The Verbier Festival Orchestra is a training orchestra for young musicians aged between 18 and 28. The last VFO concert I saw in 2019 was Schumann’s second symphony. A mammoth band and a good one too. That the programme has had to change to something smaller-scaled (Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony) demonstrates the impact the coronavirus is still having.

The Festival said earlier on today, “The Festival’s safety protocols, developed in partnership with medical experts and approved by the Canton of Valais, have ensured that its team was prepared for the possibility of the reappearance of the Covid-19 virus. Its Protection Plan was activated to stop the spread of the virus, which led to this change to the Festival’s opening night programme.”

The 28th Verbier Festival is supported by public and private funders, including Madame Aline Foriel-Destezet, The Friends of the Verbier Festival, the Festival’s major donors, including its Chairman’s Circle, the Commune de Val de Bagnes, Loterie Romande, Canton du Valais, and its loyal Principal Sponsors, Bank Julius Baer and Neva Foundation.

Read blog posts about Verbier Festival 2019

Review: Verbier Festival 2019

Highlights, notes, and reflections from a three-day trip to the mountainside music festival, now in its 26th year

Too much music and too little time for painstaking reviews. Instead, some highlights and reflections from three days at the 26th Verbier Festival.

Joshua Bell

Bell’s performance of Dvorak’s Violin Concerto was a chance to see him in the flesh after hearing him at the Proms last weekend.

Interesting to see how Bell communication with various sections during performance – signalling emotional intent, tighter ensemble. Also striking how Bell’s musicianship focuses attention on the material sometimes to the exclusion of everything around him. A truly captivating player giving a magnetic performance. Pinned to my seat throughout.

Beethoven ‘Kreutzer’

There’s a thing about the world I frequent. Content demands stories. The stories usually come from the talent. That means getting close to the talent and getting them to tell stories about their life and work.

I had pitched for a Kavakos interview and very nearly got it (it would be after the performance depending on availability). That’s fine. What was interesting for me was seeing him perform the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata with Evegny Kissin and realising that I wanted to maintain a distance and not interview him.

The performance was intense. Multiple characters from Kavakos, intense playing. Electrifying. Maybe even a little bit terrifying. A sort of white heat all around him – something you had to look at it at the same time as fearing looking at it.

Kavakos is a gentle giant. Tall, perhaps even imposing. His near-shoulder length hair shakes gently as he plays. His body remains isolated from the music. When he plays it is as though he observing himself play and, like us, marvelling at the sound emerging. He is quite something to watch. And his performance of the Kreutzer was every bit as gripping as watching Daniil Trifonov play the Transcendental Etudes back in 2013.

First time seeing Kissin live too. It has a similarly intriguing and strangely beguiling quality about him. Intriguing facial expressions as he plays. Compelling to watch. The most remarkable touch to the keyboard. Three different colours in three successive chords in the second movement. Fascinating to watch the way he looked round and up at Kavakos at various points during performance. Endearing sight.

Quartet Ebene are a remarkable bunch

This was a surprise. The quartet play with a wondrous warm burgundy sound. Noticed right from the first note. There’s clarity in the sound, but also roundness to the tone; like the sanded polished edges of pine furniture. Ravishing. Like being handed a whiskey, drinking it, liking it and then realising now that you’ve been given the right whiskey you’d happily have more. I’ve never been quite so aware of narrative in a string quartet before hearing Quartet Ebene play Mozart.

Similarly, the Tchaikovsky was a bit of a revelation. Player of the concert undoubtedly was QE’s viola player who throughout communicated with audience and colleagues with relish and verve. She works hard to maintain this level of commitment with the players who joined the quartet for the Tchaikovsky. Sometimes I wonder whether they’re less open in their communication with her. If its possible for the sound of an instrument to make me go weak at the knees, then the cellist has the ability to produce it.

Magic moment in the final movement fugue – epic, uncompromising. We’re powering down a runway heading for take off, and then pivoting on a unison note played by everyone – an unexpected and much needed breathing space. Tone matched exquisitely amongst the six players. A joy to be present in the moment.

Schubert 9th is fiendish and hugely entertaining

The Verbier Festival Orchestra’s concert performance wasn’t entirely without error – the opening bars of Schubert 9 a case in point. Otherwise a thrilling performance with some standout moments.

I hadn’t appreciated how much material Schumann had written for the string players (bloody hell they all worked hard). Impressive gear shifts (in characterisation and speed), delicate detail, and warm colours from wind and brass. Delightful elegance in both melody and phrasing in the strings, trnasforming what could have been a dull toe-tapping second movement into something far more fascinating, brimming with detail. A glorious romp followed in the third movement – lots of gratifying string textures and dry articulation from the timpanist. Fourth movement: tour de force.

Player of the concert: number one, fifth desk, first violins. I think his name was Roman Vikulov from Russia. I know its not really on to pick out individuals, but his energy, precision, and style was a thing to behold. So too the look of elation on his face when he turned to the audience after the final note in the Schumann.

Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra woodwind section

One moment in the first concert I attended this year will last (I hope) forever.

Hearing the first woodwind cue in Weber’s Oberon overture. The combination of flute and clarinet (there might have been others in the score, I just haven’t looked yet) was an absolute joy to hear. Ensemble lovingly crafted.

Research the angle not the questions

I’ve long thought I don’t research enough for interviews. In general I think too much research for interviews is a potential minefield. You can’t really gen-up on a subject you don’t know very much about quickly without running the risk of making a mistake and making yourself look like an arse. Better in some instances (especially where arts journalism is concerned) to lead on curiosity and follow your instinct. I’ve also assumed that by using an interview style that relies on instinct, too much research will result in some questions being overlooked.

This trip I made the error of preparing for one interview by writing down questions, almost as though I was scripting the interview based on what I wanted to hear. It wasn’t a disaster, it just didn’t feel right. The next interview I just identified the angle, thought about the overriding question I wanted to answer for myself, and trusted my instinct I’d get there in the space of 45 minutes. “Had I known you were such a good journalist,” said Martin Engstroem after his interview, “I’d have given you an hour.” We had in fact spoken for 51 minutes.

Those with vision lead; those without manage

The question in my mind for Martin’s interview was about leadership. This is partly because I’m working on a workshop for some arts administrators in the autumn. But it’s also because I realise (now, heading back to London) that for a long time I’ve aspired to go further in my chosen field (25 years ago in the arts, most recently in the media) but reached a bit of a brick wall. I’ve always assumed it was down to me not being the right kind of individual to go to the next level. A sort of failing.

The interview with Engstroem uncovered something I hadn’t appreciated. Leaders aren’t anointed leaders by others. They are leaders because they have a vision they need to get realised. And realising that vision requires other to follow you.

Leadership needs vision to kickstart it. If you don’t have vision then you’ve nothing for people to follow. Everything else is merely the mechanics of leadership.

Detach the production of the sound from the emotion of the music

This one’s a slightly more difficult thought to articulate. It stems from a similarly fascinating conversation with Alexander Sitkovetsky.

A comment he made during the interview recalled Menuhin suggesting he was unaware when playing what exactly his arms and fingers were doing during performance. It was as though the music was existing in its own right.

This got me thinking about the division between the mechanics of music production and the emotion. And specifically what we the listener or commentator project onto the experience of listening in order to make sense of what we’ve heard and the impact it has on us. Something for another blog post, I think. After I’ve read a little around the subject.

Imposter no more

I don’t want to show off. There are so many journalists who do that. It’s a bit tiresome. No. It’s nauseating. But …

A handful of people I know in the arts world will have heard me say to them in the past 18 months that often I feel as though I’m on the periphery of the arts world. They have expressed surprise about this. One visibly so. I realised this week that this statement was … shock horror .. a manifestation of imposter syndrome. Just like any presenting issue in a coaching session, this has gone under the radar for a long time.

But no longer it seems. Not on this trip. This has to do with a realisation about what seems to be happening more and more: people sending me stuff, people rocking up for podcasts, and feeling more and more comfortable saying what I do and for whom. The insight?

It’s also to do with the day-to-day process I’ve become more aware of on this trip. Me and my content creating peers – eg Fran Wilson, Andrew Morris, or Adrian Specs to name three of many – do this kind of stuff everyday. Podcasts require scripts. Scripts require writing. Reading your copy out loud on a frequent basis is what writing demands: being in a constant state of self-assessment with a view to correcting, improving and developing. Regardless of who pays me (or not), I do this stuff every single day.

And the insight that links these two things? Reminding myself that imposter syndrome subsides (nb it’s never overcome) when you start seeing yourself from a different perspective – how others see you.

Lina

Last note about the lovely Lina.

I worked with a pianist last year, doing some marketing and PR work, and getting him airplay on Radio 3. I had two meetings with him and various others, of whom Lina was one person present, quite by chance.

Volunteers Lina (L) and Nadine at Verbier Festival 2019

We met on other occasion (she thinks it was two, but she’s wrong) at the Royal Albert Hall.

I walked out of the VFCO concert first half, out onto the terrace and observed a woman I vaguely recognised pointing at me emphatically. It was Lina. She was volunteering on the festival.

Much laughter. Much nattering about this and that. We met up for a drink before my taxi took me back to the train station. Never has the company of one person I hardly know made a music festival mean so much more.

That makes Verbier my kind of Glastonbury I think.

Many thanks to Rebecca, Giorgia, Lucille and Sarah for their sterling work making this trip happen. Also, the Hotel Bristol, Verbier. They even have their own hotel dog. Beers/wine/gin all round (not for the dog, obviously).

The Verbier Festival runs until 3 August 2019

Review: Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra play Weber Oberon Overture, Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2, and Mendelssohn ‘Scottish’

It’s all about the detail.

The first thing I note down as I listen to the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra play Weber’s Oberon Overture, is the detail.

The string sound is warm; the opening woodwind cue exquisite – there is a warbling quality to the overall texture which is irresistible. Sweetness follows in the uppers strings, and a delectable precision in the ensemble playing as a whole. This isn’t like anything I’ve heard in a long long time.

And perhaps with good reason. The Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra membership consists of Verbier Academy alumni all of whom now play in professional orchestras across the world.

Conductor Lahav Shani works the band hard, demanding all manner of intricate details and extreme dynamic contrasts. He coaxes and stirs in an understated way. At one point an almost imperceptible trumpet takes me by surprise. My pen goes down. I lean in.

Vadim Repin’s Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 is a remarkable marathon building to a cacophonous conclusion. There were moments in the first movement when it felt as though the ensemble was out ever so slightly with the soloist – the most marked example when horns and cello exchange phrases in the third movement.

That said, the range of string textures throughout was a thing to behold, so too the precision closing of phrases with beautifully placed chords. Balletic. As though we were gently laying our heads on a feather pillow.

The second movement has porcelain delicacy in the solo line, and a music box quality in the accompaniment. Repin’s honeyed vibrato hints at anguish in the vulnerability of the movement. The return of the opening subject towards the end triggers an emotional rush I wasn’t prepared for. Here too it’s obvious where the core strength in this woodwind section lays: in the rapport between flutes and clarinets – some gorgeous textures emerge from their dovetailed tones.

Lahav Shani

The thrills and spills of the first half realised by the VFCO’s dexterity and musicianship come to the fore in Shani’s thrilling direction of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony.

Dramatic dynamic contrast in the first movement exposed some melodic lines I’d not heard before. The virtuosic clarinet solo that opens the second movement was an obvious highlight, followed by blistering articulation in the horns and double basses later in the movement. A noble celli solo was made more of by reducing the dynamic range of the string players that usually engulf it. With these simple elements brought front and centre, the VFCO made this an enlightening interpretation.

The detail-oriented Shani transitioned from an operatic opening at the beginning of the third movement into something wholly balletic in a few short bars, deploying demonstrative hand gestures to create gentle ebbs and flows in the strings.