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This all-Beethoven programme made an impressive start to Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s new Season at Tonbridge School Chapel on Saturday. Under the incisive direction of Matthew Willis, the three items reflected human emotions as relevant today as they were in Beethoven’s time. The first decades of the nineteenth century were also an era of political turmoil and fear of violence, against which his music embodied faithfulness and joy, grief, revenge and pity, mercy and the longing for peace.
The Orchestra tackled the Overture Leonore No3 with energy and attention to dynamic detail. This was orchestral playing of a very high order, from the beautifully crafted ‘conversation’ between the flute and strings to the exhilarating crescendo from pianissimo to fortissimo and the spine-tingling off-stage trumpet calls giving hope of Florestan’s release.
Less well-known was the dramatic concert aria Ah! Perfido sung by Soprano Helena Dix. In a performance spotlighting the virtuoso singer’s passion, dynamic range and persuasive engagement with her audience, she acted the part of a ‘woman scorned’ with absolute commitment. The Orchestra accompanied her sensitively, with some beautiful playing from the woodwind section.
The tour de force that is the Missa Solemnis was the result of four years of planning and composition by Beethoven, from 1819 to it first performance in 1823. In 2015, this performance was the culmination of weeks of preparation and hours of rehearsal. Robin Morrish’s excellent programme notes provided a valuable insight into the words of the Mass. The Chorus rose magnificently to the considerable challenges of the work, and on the whole the sopranos survived the relentless heights of their part, especially in the Quoniam, but were tiring by the Et vitam venturi section. The opening Kyrie was well-controlled, with the singers supplicating for mercy. The Society's remarkable tenor section excelled in the Quoniam, while the altos and basses gave their all the whole evening. There is nothing as moving as pianissimo choral singing, and this was achieved with great effect in et homo factus est and et sepultus est.
Leader Susan Skone-James provided a beautifully tender violin solo in Qui venit, and throughout the work the Orchestra never overwhelmed the Chorus despite the large number of musicians involved. The Quartet of operatic soloists cut through the huge corporate sound with ease. Soprano Helena Dix once more demonstrated her breathtaking technique and glorious ethereal floating entries; astonishingly powerful mezzo Linda Finnie kept an enviably steady line; tenor Paul Austin Kelly sang with assurance and spot-on entries, and baritone Lukas Kargl gave a poignant interpretation of miserere nobis in the Agnus Dei. All the soloists performed with conviction and poise, while Matthew Willis held all his forces together with expert guidance.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 21 Nov. 2015 Tonbridge School Chapel
On Saturday afternoon 19 December there was no nook or cranny to be found in Tonbridge School Chapel, as once again Tonbridge Round Table and Tonbridge Philharmonic Society choir, conducted by Matthew Willis, and accompanied by Chris Harris, organ, and an excellent trumpeter, with pupils from Slade Primary School, welcomed everyone to Family Carols. The charities supported this year were West Kent Mind, and Community Sports.
Matthew Willis encouraged, and got, enthusiastic audience involvement in traditional and modern carols, keeping rhythms and speeds joyfully brisk. Choral solos included some already well-loved, and at least two, by modern composers, combined a light touch with a good deal of complexity. Slade Primary School, in their items, delighted everyone with their charm and confidence.
The afternoon went with a swing, with quiet interludes for readings from Scripture. The Readers were Tom Tugendhat, local MP, Pat Downing President of West Kent Mind, Councillor Owen Baldock, Mayor of Tonbridge and Malling, Toby Butler Chairman of Tonbridge Round Table and Robin Morrish, President of Tonbridge Philharmonic Society.
Finally, mulled wine and mince pies were on offer for audience and performers.
21 December 2015
Family Carols at Tonbridge School
19 December 2015
Dedicated to flautist and piccolo player David Prescott, who died in January, Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s Orchestral Concert at St Stephen’s Church, conducted by Matthew Willis, featured the two First Symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Brahms.
The unusual layout of the orchestra, bringing the strings out into the body of the Church from the chancel, with cellos and basses behind the upper strings, resulted in a well-balanced sound, appreciated by a large, enthusiastic audience.
Shivering, strings evoked an icy feel, suited to the nickname Winter Daydreams given to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony in G minor; but after a melody played gloriously by flute and bassoon, we were soon off on a thrilling troika ride over the snow. Rich orchestral textures, confident clarinet and lovely woodwind and brass ensemble ensured a pleasing first movement, although the music is always underpinned by a slightly malevolent bass figure. The ever-widening intervals played by the cello section were perfectly executed.
The second movement is the ‘comfort food’ of the symphony: beautifully crafted melodies, sumptuous warm string sound and outstanding playing from the woodwind section suggesting birdsong, perhaps looking ahead poignantly to spring. The following Scherzo is full of good tunes, with Tchaikovsky honing his later genius for ballet music and already demonstrating his use of native Russian folk song. A graceful cello solo leads towards a witty ending of this movement.
The melancholy of the ‘andante lugubre’ opening to the Finale is banished with a gear change into a brilliant but tricky fugue. The accelerando into the allegro maestoso was well-managed and brought the Symphony to a dramatic close.
In contrast to the youthful Tchaikovsky, Brahms was in his forties when his first Symphony was performed, after struggling to complete it over twenty years. Mindful of Beethoven’s towering legacy: ‘that giant whose steps I always hear behind me’, Brahms incorporated many of Beethoven’s fingerprints, especially in the Fourth Movement. Conductor Hans von Bülow acclaimed it as ‘Beethoven’s 10th’. Matthew Willis brought a Germanic, solid beat to the dramatic first movement, giving it a big, confident sound, with effective pizzicato from the cellos and basses. The two middle movements are light relief in contrast, and the Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra featured some wonderfully song-like playing from solo oboe, clarinet, horn and violin in the second. The sunny third movement is upbeat, until the dark subdued coda.
Following the C minor introduction to the Finale, with descending notes in the basses and expectant pizzicato strings, the change to the major mode gave the splendid horn section the chance to usher in the glorious melody which permeates the remainder of the Symphony. This fourth movement could be described as a cross between Beethoven’s 9th Finale and Brahms’s own Gaudeamus igitur. Matthew Willis drove his forces on to the triumphant conclusion of the work with dynamic and resolute direction.
Orchestral Concert - 20 Feb 2016
St.Stephen’s Church Tonbridge
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 19 Mar 2016
Tonbridge School Chapel
TONBRIDGE PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY WITH EVANGELISCHE KANTOREI HEUSENSTAMM-
JOINT CONCERT : HANDEL’S MESSIAH
There was a sense of occasion in Tonbridge School Chapel on 19th March when a capacity audience, led by Councillor Owen Baldock, Mayor of Tonbridge and Malling, welcomed musicians from the town’s twin, Heusenstamm. Excellent sections of the programme explained the history going back to 1989, of the three-yearly exchanges between the Evangelische Kantorei and Tonbridge Philharmonic Society. This year, twenty-seven singers and two violinists were among the guests when, on the day before the start of Holy Week, and in partnership with the Philharmonic Society’s choir and orchestra, Messiah was performed.
Matthew Willis undertook the direction of the combined forces to perform a work of complex demands, relating through Biblical texts chosen by Charles Jennens, the story of the Saviour: Prophecy, the Nativity, the Cross, the Resurrection and the Day of Judgement. Contributions were made by four gifted soloists, by Christopher Harris, chamber organ, and by augmented brass.
As the triumphant end of Part 2 , the ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus saw most of the audience standing, as tradition invites; and at the end of the performance, they stood and cheered.
From the opening orchestral Sinfonia with its brisk swinging tempi, throughout each section, they had listened to a confident, well-shaped and varied performance, as Matthew Willis drew total support from his enlarged resources. The attack was full and confident, words were clear, and entries accurate, the variety of dynamics and tempi well focused, full of subtle touches, for example when soloists elegantly ornamented the themes of their da capo arias. Orchestral forces were strong, especially when beautifully supporting solo arias. When the chorus deployed their full strength in Lift up your heads, or the bass soloist proclaimed The trumpet shall sound, the tension was electrifying. Total cohesion was achieved and Worthy is the Lamb, the final movement, was both monumental and moving. The effect was enhanced as all four soloists were seen to take part with the rest.
So the evening ended, with deserved thanks to the musicians and their director; a performance which we may feel would have satisfied both Handel and Jennens.
24 March 2016
Photograph by Owen Baldock & Carolyn Dobbin
Strauss - Serenade for Wind Instruments Op.7, Tchaikovsky - Serenade for Strings Op.48 and Schubert - Symphony No.4 in C minor ‘Tragic’
This was a well-judged programme for the Society’s first orchestral concert in a new venue, the recently-built Media and Arts Centre at West Kent College. Audience and performers enjoyed the spacious and welcoming facilities and the addition of theatre lighting lent a sense of occasion and professionalism for this good amateur group.
The choice of pieces by conductor Matthew Willis enabled wind and strings to experience the new acoustic separately and together, while maintaining a cohesive musical journey for the audience. The single movement Serenade, written by the 17-year-old Richard Strauss, was elegantly and accurately performed by the woodwind and four horns with good intonation and unanimity of breathing and phrasing throughout. The dry theatre acoustic and Willis’ restrained conducting allowed the players to deliver a clarity and level of detail, which is often lost in this work.
The thirteen wind players were replaced by three times as many string players and we were immediately transported to another place and time! After the tentative early effort of a student composer, now we were in the hands of Tchaikovsky aged forty and at the top of his game and, boy, did the players rise to the challenge. It was thrilling to see every player in every section absolutely connected with conductor and composer in the well-known Serenade for Strings. Each of the four movements was ably characterised and delivered with a richness of sound and, may I say, panache. On occasions I wanted a more intense soft legato in the upper strings, but this is to pick nits; this was a stirring and accomplished performance.
So what would we get here when we combined both wind and strings, with added trumpets and timpani, for the fourth symphony which Schubert himself called ‘Tragic’? It was an experience worthy of the Viennese salons, which gave us a sense of the excitement that the first performances of such works must have given to 19th century audiences. There was energy and determination alongside the lyricism and wit which I found very appealing.
Amateur groups can rely on the acoustic of churches to blur the blemishes but this was not available to the Philharmonic in this venue. Nor did they need it. It was such a pleasure to be able to hear and see all the detail from our raked seating. This was a ‘high- definition’ performance in every sense and the long and warm applause at the end was very well earned.
Review by Sara Kemsley
Orchestral Concert - 21 May 2016
West Kent College, Tonbridge
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 10 July 2016
Proms at the Castle, Tonbridge
Conductor: Matthew Willis.
Leader: Susan Skone James.
Soloist: Robin Morrish (violin)
This had to be the perfect programme for the large audience that included a lot of family groups – some with very young children.
An outdoor concert demands a perfect setting and the lawn adjoining Tonbridge Castle was just that – a wonderful and highly appropriate backdrop to a very British sort of evening. During the day the weather had been ‘mixed’ but the evening, although not warm, was dry with sunshine – just right for supper hampers.
How fitting that this Concert concluded the Tonbridge Festival – it was an appropriate celebration. Everyone was provided with a Union Flag and two brown paper bags to blow up to replicate cannon – an essential part of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
By invitation from Matthew Willis under whose direction the choir and orchestra have moved forward to notable acclaim, the music for the programme had largely been chosen by the people of Tonbridge and surrounding communities. With the exception of Copland, the programme celebrated European composers.
Just days after Brexit, the inclusion of Ode to Joy – the official anthem of the EU since 1985 – was not lost on the audience (of course, the programme was devised and agreed long before 23 June). Perhaps it was foresight that resulted in Beethoven’s inspirational score being preceded and followed by stirringly patriotic music that – with the encouragement of Matthew Willis – achieved noisy audience participation and flag-waving.
The stage set included lighting effects that played an innovative part in the programme until – during The Messiah right at the end – there was a serious power cut. Undaunted, the orchestra and choir continued which resulted in a massive, lengthy, loud and appreciative ovation from the audience. Behind the darkened stage, the firework display showed off the castle to perfection.
There is no doubt that the audience included some people who hadn’t previously attended a concert given by Tonbridge Philharmonic Society. Some very young people were involved and their enthusiastic participation indicated they thoroughly enjoyed the experience. This was a gala night and the atmosphere and the great untrained choir – the audience – revelled in every single moment.
The BBC Proms attract millions and millions of viewers and listeners all around the world. Proms at the Castle didn’t draw quite those numbers but a good percentage of the 600+ concert audience introduced Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir to a lot of new supporters.
As a celebration, the evening was absolutely perfect.
Mrs Patricia Crawford BA (Hons), Dip Ed, Cert SSH
Copland - Fanfare for the Common Man
Orff - O Fortuna - Carmina Burana
Holst - Jupiter -The Planets (I vow to thee my country with audience)
Brahms - Hungarian Dance no. 5. 5oloist: Robin Morrish (violin)
Bizet - Carmen Suite (Overture, Habanera, Aragonaise & Danse Boheme)
Handel - Zadok the Priest
Shostakovich - Festive Overture
Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture
Wood - Fantasia on Sea Songs (Rule Britannia, with audience)
Elgar – Pomp & Circumstance March 1 (Land of Hope and Glory with audience)
Orff - O Fortuna
Beethoven - Ode to Joy Symphony No. 9
Handel - Hallelujah chorus – Messiah
@LoveTonbridge Haven't had a chance before now, but just wanted to say what a brilliant time we had at the #Proms on Sunday @TonbridgeFest @TonbridgePhil About Proms at the Castle summer concert July 2016
@tonbridgedaily A rousing Rule Britannia at tonight's castle proms. WOW #Tonbridge you can sing!!! Congratulations to @TonbridgePhil
About Proms at the Castle summer concert July 2016