Wednesday was the final chance to hear the BBC Symphony Orchestra before their appearance on Saturday in the Last Night, this time under their Czech principal conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, who will also conduct the Last Night for only the second time (although he did appear as a vacuum cleaner player last year…) As the orchestra’s principal conductor, Bělohlávek was dressed in the same white jacket as the male players.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra is undoubtedly a great orchestra, and this was shown in the splendid opening performance of Wagner’s prelude to the third act of Lohengrin. Next up was a première of a Radio 3 commission by a composer called Tansy Davies. The piece had the title Wild Card, and a wild card is something that could turn out to be either good or bad. Unfortunately, for me at least, it was the latter. Only now do I read the programme and discover that there are meant to be sections in the music that depict all 22 cards in a Tarot pack. I would never have known as the work was largely homogeneous with little of interest to listen out for, except the occasional eccentric percussion instrument such as the wind machine (if that’s what it was). The work received a rather lukewarm applause from the audience, with the arena already rather sparsely populated anyway – I don’t know whether it was due to the Tube strike, earlier heavy rain, the programme, or simply that it’s nearly the end of the season.
After the interval it was back to business with Bruckner’s 7th symphony. This is another marathon work, clocking in at just over an hour. Again, it was a fine performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Bruckner wrote the slow movement following Wagner’s death, providing a connection with the opening work. Whether Wagner came to a sticky end after a bad reading in of his Tarot cards is unknown. The symphony received a resounding and well-deserved applause from the audience. We’ll certainly all be listening to Jiří and his orchestra on Saturday, whether in the hall or over the airwaves.
Wagner Lohengrin – Prelude (Act 3)
Tansy Davies Wild Card
(BBC commission: world premiere)
Bruckner Symphony No. 7 in E major
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jiří Bělohlávek conductor