Friday 19 October 2012, 13:21
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales' Hoddinott Hall 2012/2013 concert series got off to a very fresh start this Tuesday with a symphony that not one member of the orchestra had played before.
That does not happen very often (unless, obviously, we're playing something very contemporary). It wasn't just that no one had played this specific symphony before - Vasily Kalinnikov's First Symphony - that was disconcerting, it was the fact that almost no one had even heard of the composer before.
Our new principal conductor, Thomas Søndergård, is a big fan of this work, and was keen for it to be included in his first concerts with the orchestra. I, having been an academic in a previous life, was rather perplexed when I had to admit to my friends in work that I was as ignorant as the next person about the work.
I genuinely couldn't even have hazarded a guess as to whether or not Vasily
Kalinnikov was dead or alive. Determined to remedy my embarrassing lack of knowledge, I went on a hunt to find out about this Kalinnikov character.
It turns out Kalinnikov was a contemporary of Tchaikovsky (who very much admired Kalinnikov's work). Alas, Kalinnikov's career was stalled by family poverty, and by his own ill health. He died depressingly young, leaving only a handful of orchestral and choral works, and a few miscellaneous other compositions.
His music remains well established in the repertory in Russia (especially the First Symphony), but is little known in Britain. Which is a shame.
The first movement of the First Symphony is very typical of the period - sonata form, big melodies - and the second movement has really beautiful orchestral colouring and a very poignant cor anglais solo. The third is a rousing scherzo, and the fourth, a blistering finale, again very much representative of Russian symphonies of this period.
Having the opportunity to learn works like this makes you wonder - what other works that you've never played, by other composers you've never heard of, are still out there to discover? A heartening question in my opinion.
I enjoy our afternoon concerts at BBC Hoddinott Hall, although for some reason, if you've played something big, like Nielsen 4 for example, it feels weird walking out of the studio, and it still being the middle of the day. Our studio was conceived as a space that would double as a concert venue, and it seats around 350 people, and since we moved to our new studio in January 2009, there has been a steadily growing and loyal audience at these afternoon concerts.
There is a certain intimacy in studio concerts; the audience is so much closer than in bigger venues, and as it is our home, it does feel a little like inviting a group of nice people into your living room to enjoy good music with you - and I quite like that.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales will be performing at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay on Friday 26 October and Monday 29 October - to find out more about the orchestra’s concert diary, visit their website.