Tag Archives: BBC Symphony Orchestra

RSNO & BBC SSO / Edusei

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

This wasn’t the first time the RSNO and BBC SSO had joined forces. Reproduced in the programme booklet for this latest collaborative tour de force was a poster dating from 1941 featuring a joint ‘orchestra of 98 performers” under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult. Wednesday’s concert, forming part of this week’s conference in Glasgow of the Association of British Orchestras, raised the bar to 101 players.

It was a supreme concert, with repertoire that wasn’t even around when Boult commanded his earlier wartime alliance. Shostakovich had begun his Violin Concerto No 1 later in the 1940s, but it never saw the light of day until 1955. John Adams’ pseudo-symphonic Harmonielehre – last heard in Scotland courtesy of the LSO under Simon Rattle in the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival – dates from the 1980s. The programme opened with the UK premiere of Samy Moussa’s Elysium, originally premiered last year by the Vienna Philharmonic in Barcelona’s Gaudi-designed Sagrada Família.

It was possible to sense something of the vast aura that premiere must have had in Barcelona’s magnificent, resonant cathedral, even in the relative dryness of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, where German conductor Kevin John Edusei’s realisation of Moussa’s vision of the heavenly journey was a performance of elevating intensity.

It was also easy to understand why the original premiere coupled Elysium with a Bruckner Symphony. Edusei didn’t have that comparison to make on Wednesday, but he elicited from his massed players a shuddering, throbbing resonance that implied kinship with Bruckner’s chunky building blocks. It made for a breathtaking concert opener.

And it prepared the ground for Spanish violinist María Dueñas, who may cut a petite physical profile, but who set this densely-packed Shostakovich concerto savagely ablaze, from the gnarled potency of the opening movement and dance-fuelled swagger of the wicked Scherzo, to the sweeter sunrise moment that lifts the Passacaglia and the unrelenting irony of the finale.

If the uniqueness of the situation had already revealed a palpable excitement in the joint orchestral response – you wonder to what extent a sense of friendly competitiveness existed within – that was to erupt big time in John Adams’ mighty Harmonielehre. Like much of his music, it fuses together a minimalist chassis with a freer superstructure that is unafraid to express itself in post-Romantic terms.

Edusei’s rhythmic discipline ensured a performance that was grippingly taut, yet heightened by the sparkle and glitter of exuberant orchestral colourings. Adams wrote his three-movement work in response to a surreal dream in which an oil tanker in San Fransisco Bay suddenly upturned and shot into the sky like a rocket. Hearing it live was, indeed, like entering an unreal world, but the optimism expressed in this joyous performance said something very different to the unreal world we’ve all just been living through. 

Ken Walton

Available on BBC Sounds

Raymond Yiu


Occasionally, a new composer will spring from nowhere with a musical style that seems completely chaotic, unapologetically eclectic and to all appearances untutored. Yet through the apparent mire emerges a personality so stirring, so imaginative, so wonderfully refreshing that what might be mistaken for stylistic naivety turns out to be an instinctive statement of wild self-belief.

If you haven’t heard of Raymond Yiu, he was born in Hong Kong in 1973, came to the UK in 1990 to study for A levels, before reading engineering at Imperial College London. Mainly self-taught as a composer, and with a freedom of language emanating from his early exposure to 1980s Western pop sung in Cantonese, his music was soon being played by the BBC’s orchestras, the success of the London premiere of The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured leading to commissioning of Symphony for the 2015 BBC Proms. Both feature on this curiously exciting disc.

Just how important it is to know that The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured takes its title from a pamphlet issued by the 18th century Scots-born bookseller Alexander Cruden – something of a latter-day Mary Whitehouse who styled himself a moral “Corrector” – is debatable. More interesting is Yiu’s analogy of modern-day international citizenship, a kind of cultural morass that finds form in the madness of extremes.

While the motivic germ is a borrowing from Elgar’s Cockaigne – a portrait of a very different London – this “game for orchestra” soon explodes into a restless, shifting menagerie of colour, gesture and references. There is violence and calm, industrial grit and spiritual calm, pealing church bells, wanton dance pastiche. It’s a crazy cacophony, skittish in parts, but hugely addictive. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, under David Robertson, reveals Yiu’s underlying craftsmanship in a performance bursting with vital exuberance and energy. 

In Symphony, Yiu displays the same freedom of expression. The protagonist is a countertenor (Andrew Watts), present from the word go – or rather, the gradually emerging word “strong” – in a time-travelling selection of texts from Walt Whitman, Constantine P Cavafy, Thom Gunn and John Donne. The five-movement format offers greater scope for Yiu to frame his thoughts, self-regulating the seeming free-for-all of the earlier piece. 

In no way, though, does it curb his eclectic toolbox, from which the likes of esoteric modernism and seventies’ disco are plucked with shameless confidence. Watts’ flamboyant and versatile performance is matched by conductor Edward Gardner’s cool mastery over the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which is a remastering of the original Royal Albert Hall premiere.

The World Was Once All Miracle features the indomitable baritone Roderick Williams with the BBC SO, this time under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis. Written in the years immediately following Symphony, it’s an extended setting of words by Anthony Burgess, commemorating the 2017 centenary of the A Clockwork Orange author’s birth, in which Yiu explores ever wider musical influences, such as the Malayan instrumentation that haunts the third song. 

Burgess’ words, of course, are just another perfect excuse for Yiu to engage in further wicked satire. With musical quotes from Thomas Arne (one very obvious snippet of Rule Britannia) and a blatant parody on mid-20th century popular song to end with (somewhat abruptly), mixed with anything else that takes his fancy, the charm of Yiu’s music is its compulsive listenability. Scots label Delphian, in remastering these performances, has done well to bring it to wider attention.
Ken Walton