Saturday 27th June 2015

Tonight's concert starts with Shostakovich "Festive Overture". Written in just three days, the piece was commissioned by the Bolshoi's conductor Vassili Nebolsin who found himself without a suitable piece to open a concert to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution. It is thought that Shostakovich based the overture on Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture, and while the Festive Overture uses conventional classical form and harmony, the lively tempo and style are typically Shostakovich. Beginning with a fanfare in the brass, the wind instruments take off with a fast melody, handed over to the strings reaching a four-note climax shortly afterwards. The horns and cellos take over a more lyrical melody before the fanfare returns to a rousing coda.

Our next piece is Sibelius "Violin Concerto". Growing up as a supremely talented violinist, Sibelius started his musical career intent on becoming a great virtuoso. However, his interest in composition and a shoulder injury turned his career in another direction. This is his only violin concerto, completed in 1902 but its composition co-incided with one of his worst periods of alcoholism. It is thought that the slow movement was sketched out during a colossal three-day hangover! The premiere of the piece was also a complete disaster, after Sibelius moved the performance from Berlin to Helsinki at the last minute. The new soloist, Victor Novacek, who taught violin at the conservatoire, had to stop several times during the performance as the technical demands of the music were too much for him. The piece opens in an aura of mystery as the solo violin emerges from a simmering bed of strings. Its yearning theme of intensity gives way to passion and a turbulent cadenza after which the orchestra re-enters. The second movement, Adagio di molto, is quiet and lyrical. The solo violin enters with a long, romantic melody, followed by a more dramatic theme from the orchestra. The finale is not a typical, jolly romp but a gritty rondo that musicologist Sir Donald Tovey rather unkindly described as "a polonaise for polar bears". But the movement contains the concerto's highest share of technical demands and builds up a vibrant head of steam en route to a dynamic conclusion. We are delighted to welcome Christopher Jones as our soloist tonight. Originally from Canada, Christopher plays with the Gildas Quartet and Manchester Camerata, and has appeared at the Wigmore Hall and with the Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra.

Our final work is Symphony No. 5 by Carl Nielsen. Born into a large, extremely impoverished family, Nielsen's musical talent was quick to show itself. At the age of three, he discovered that sticks in the woodpile outside the house made different musical notes depending on their thickness and length. At six, he tried out his father's violin and by the age of fourteen, was a bandsman in the Royal Danish Army. He began to compose his own music and at the age of nineteen, he was admitted to the Copenhagen Conservatory as a scholarship student of violin and piano. When he died he was an honoured figure in his homeland, but had barely caused a stir amongst musicians abroad. His fifth symphony is the first that doesn't bear any title, which is perhaps surprising given the huge amount of drama that it contains. Set over only two movements, this idiosyncratic work expresses the composer's fascination with what he called "the division of dark and light, the battle between evil and good". The first movement is at first static and mysterious, slowly finding direction until the introduction of the fatefulsounding snare-drum which introduces what Nielsen called the "evil motif". This is eventually quashed however by a long, poignant clarinet solo, which takes us to the finale. This movement, described as a "symphony in miniature" contains a scherzo and slow movement, framed by two outer Allegro sections. Where the first movement centres on Nielsen's inner crisis and obsessions, the finale looks outward to the world. Crisis is never far away with the echo of the repetitive ticking from the first movement, but the music is ultimately positive and life-affirming.

Concert Details

Date: Saturday 27 June, 2015
Time: 7.30pm

Venue: Victoria Rooms, Clifton, Bristol. Click here for a map


  • Shostakovich - Festive Overture
  • Sibelius - Violin Concerto
  • Nielsen - Symphony No. 5

Violin: Christopher Jones
Conductor: Jonathan Lo
Leader: Mark Bunker

Tickets will be available online (details to follow shortly), or on the door.

The ticket prices are:

  • £15 (£13 concessions) balcony
  • £11 adults (£9 concessions) stalls
  • £5 students
  • £2 children/school parties

Pre-concert talk:
Jonathan will be presenting a free pre-concert talk at 6.45pm.

Musical Director
Jonathan Lo

Mark Bunker

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