Can we discuss, just for a moment, please, the sheer theatricality of the orchestra? The sight of bows sweeping in unison, the frenzied dance of the conductor, the snare drum which sits in foreboding silence, only to erupt at the climax of the movement: all of these things are but side dishes to the hearty meal of the music, but they are nevertheless little moments of wonder. Going to the orchestra, I discovered last night, is an event in itself, and one which comes with an extraordinary amount of clapping.
The sound of the Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra is nothing short of breath-taking, especially during the opening bars of each movement, when a casual flick from conductor Alexander Dmitriev unleashes a wall of sound. Just as effective is when the ensemble is suddenly silenced, save for a lonely flute or a solitary bassoon. Luckily, the Orchestra’s second offering, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, sees them sparring with violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, the soloist for the evening, in a stirring musical conversation. As astounding as his technique may have been, it was those moments when Sitkovetsky and the orchestra exchanged melodic blows, with Dmitriev an amused bystander, which stood out.
Despite all the pomp and ceremony which can come with classical musical, there is something supremely calming about watching an orchestra negotiate their way through a piece. It is an excellent antidote to the creeping stress of the second half of term, a chance to take a moment from the omnipresent rush to appreciate a simple beauty.
After a lifetime of only experiencing classical music through recordings, I also found it fascinating to be able to see an ensemble in action. More even than the conspiratorial looks between members of the percussion section and the amusing sight of pages being hurriedly turned, I enjoyed above all the sound of the Orchestra tuning up. This beautiful discordance is something which you can only get in situ, and it was a stirring harbinger of the events which were to follow. It is a strange irony that these thirty seconds, presumably a nightly chore for the musicians on stage, was probably my fondest memory of the Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra.