1 October 2023, Concert Review by Maureen Greenhouse

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The RTWSO opened its 2023/24 season of 6 six concerts in the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells with a programme of music by Russian composers. The orchestra, under its Music Director and conductor Roderick Dunk, was joined in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto by the wonderful Korean violinist Yeon Joo Sir, making a return visit after playing the Brahms concerto with the orchestra in March 2022.

The Programme note suggested that the opening item was not for the faint-hearted! Mussorgsky’s A Night on the Bare Mountain (as re-orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov) tells of a Witches’ Sabbath, with music that featured in the Leopold Stokowski Disney film Fantasia. The music is full of macabre intensity and this, together with the two pieces which followed, left the audience experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions travelling the gamut of heightened tension through to big, weepy, handkerchief moments!

When Yeon Joo Sir arrived on stage to play the Tchaikovsky concerto, it was apparent that she immediately attracted the audience’s attention. Such was her self-assuredness, combined with outstanding technical ability, that she certainly did ‘own the stage’. Yeon Joo Sir made one of the most difficult of violin concertos ever written seem effortless. Of course, there has to be a sympathetic accompaniment by the orchestra, which should enhance, but not over-shadow, the soloist. All achieved – especially with some beautiful playing from the woodwind section. At the end of her performance the audience erupted into well-deserved, tumultuous applause.

If the Tchaikovsky is one of the most technically-demanding violin concertos, then the symphony that followed after the interval is certainly one of the longest. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 lasts about an hour, depending upon which version, repeats and cuts are played. It is taxing in terms of the stamina required for orchestra, and for the conductor!  Of particular note was the excellent playing, again, of the woodwind section, which was joined on this occasion by their big and little brothers – the piccolo, cor anglais and bass clarinet. This symphony is, arguably, best known for its third movement – the aforesaid big handkerchief moment – with its lush, beautiful themes on strings, clarinet and flute. At the end of the concert some people appeared to be visibly moved.

In the Programme, Music Director Roderick Dunk said that he would be bidding farewell to the orchestra at the end of the 2024/25 season. He has been involved with the RTWSO for 30 years and felt that the time was right to hand over to someone with ‘a fresh artistic input’. Whilst many would disagree with him and are saddened by his decision, but respect it, he can be extremely proud of what he has achieved. He will leave in the knowledge that when he finally says goodbye, he will have nurtured, and be handing over, a very well-honed group of musicians.

If you are reading this article but did not attend the concert, why not come to the next one on 5 November? You missed a corker of a concert on 1 October, but there is time to make amends and come in the future!

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