bristol metropolitan orchestra at st george’s (again)

I went along to St George’s, Bristol last night to see/hear the Bristol Metropolitan Orchestra perform a programme of three pieces: Elgar’s ‘Cello Concerto’; Stravinsky’s ‘The Firebird Suite’ and Louise Farrenc’s ‘Overture in E minor, Op 23’.
This was the third time I’d heard the BMO perform (conductor: Michael Cobb). None of the orchestra’s players is a professional musician (they have diverse working backgrounds – including anaesthetists, paediatric nurses, engineers and IT developers), but the quality of their playing is consistently excellent.

Last night’s programme was ideal for my taste: I was very familiar with ‘Firebird’ (or, at least, so I thought… but, during the course of the evening, realised that there were quite large chunks that I’d forgotten!); I knew nothing about the little known (to me) female composer Farrenc – but am always ‘up’ for listening to something new (I wasn’t disappointed); and the Cello Concerto is one of my very favourite pieces of classical music.
The soloist for the Elgar piece was British cellist Ariana Kashefi (I think she’s just 29 years old). I’d never heard of her before last night, but my good friend Ed Kay (himself a member of BMO) had known her for more than 10 years and assured me (with a glint in his eye) that she was ‘very, very good’.
And so it proved… but for ‘very, very good’ read ‘absolutely amazing’!

Kashefi was simply outstanding. Within the first 10 seconds, you just KNEW that you were in for a huge treat! I’m no connoisseur, but she seemed to have ‘everything’ in terms of musical gifts. Her performance was electrifying – commanding (and yet incredibly sensitive); arrogant (and yet completely captivating and self-contained); and all done with wonderful, natural musical technique and skill.
Kashefi’s performance was utterly mesmerising.
This may sound ridiculous (who me?), but the Elgar piece actually brought tears to my eyes. It was so, SO beautiful. It made me recall that the last time I had seen/listened to the ‘Cello Concerto’ played ‘live’ had been when I’d attended a special concert at St Hilda’s College, Oxford (I designed some student apartments for the College in Stockmore Street, Oxford during my time working for The Oxford Architects Partnership). That was some 45 years ago(!) and, strange as it may seem, it made me wonder if I would ever again witness hearing/seeing the piece performed ‘live’ again in my lifetime.
Anyway, the evening was a bit special and the BMO are definitely worth following (their next concert will be Sunday 22 March at St George’s – featuring works by Beethoven and Liszt).
PS: The world-famous cellist Jacqueline Du Pré was an Honorary Fellow at St Hilda’s College. She was forced to stop performing in 1973, due to Multiple Sclerosis, and died in 1987, aged 42. The Jacqueline Du Pré Music Building was subsequently built in Oxford and opened in 1995 (St Hilda’s had been one of the joint fundraisers).
PPS: As an encore, Ariana Kashefi performed a short piece entitled “Song of the Birds” - a traditional Catalan Christmas song and lullaby. The song was made famous outside Catalonia by Pablo Casals' instrumental version on the cello. After his exile in 1939, he would begin each of his concerts by playing this song. Kashefi played it superbly… and I cried again (I know!). This YouTube recording doesn’t quite do it justice (IMHO), but it’ll give you a sense of Kashefi’s musical ability.