16 December, 2020

A baroque Christmas and a very classy BSO one, as well! The orchestra laid on a truly exceptional cast to kick off the 2020 festive season in a distinctly stylish fashion. Under the direction of early music specialist Robert Howarth, the indomitable players of the BSO were joined by soprano Anna Devin and violinist Alina Ibragimova in a seasonal gift to the many on-line and hall-based listeners who gathered for the last concert in the wonderful Autumn season.

When, almost exactly a year ago, Arts Council England set out the principles it would be looking for in funding organisations for the next decade, one of the qualities it was looking for was “Dynamism”. It wanted orchestras to “develop skills” to “respond to change”. “We expect to see changes in the tastes and habits of the public” they explained, and hoped orchestras would employ “the power of data” to help them respond to these developments.

That may have sounded challenging enough twelve months ago, but this year has of course thrown up demands beyond anyone’s imagination back in those serene pre-Covid days. How remarkable it has been, and how lucky we are, that the dynamic BSO has led the way in Britain in live-streaming a season of 12 full orchestral concerts, and creating the systems to collect the ticket income which makes the whole enterprise possible. Probably more than five years’ technological progress was made in five months through one crazy summer to get this done.

While this remarkable achievement should be lauded, and the people who have made it all happen must be thanked, not least Investec who have been generous series sponsors, in the end it is all about the wonderful players and the inspirational music.

This triumphant evening opened with a very crisp performance of Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. The spirit of Christmas inhabited this music, which happily moved from sophisticated celebration to rustic nostalgia in its sharply contrasting movements.

Anna Devin, whose Handel performances so impressed just before the first lockdown back in March, returned to sing some all-time favourites from Messiah: Rejoice Greatly, I Know that my Redeemer Liveth and If God be for Us. Ms Devin inhabited the warm humanity of Handel’s music with commanding beauty, as well as astonishing technical virtuosity.

Alina Ibragimova, one of the most exciting twenty-first century stars of the violin, took command of the Autumn and Winter concertos from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Music so well known and loved earned joyful performances which seemed to bridge the space between performers and audience with a special warmth and shared feeling.

Many might agree that the only way to conclude such an evening would be with the music of J S Bach. In this case the Orchestral Suite No 1, which danced across the huge Lighthouse platform. It managed to become a conclusion and an apotheosis of all that has been achieved by the BSO in this ghastly year.

The whole BSO team richly deserves its Christmas holiday when it finally arrives. Its friends and supporters however, look forward with immense anticipation to a new year of new endeavours, and many rich delights in the twelve-concert spring season. Bring it on! There will be “dynamism” in truck loads, you can be sure!

Watch concert highlights below!