All strings bright and beautiful… Flanders Symphony Orchestra at the Norwich Theatre Royal

The orchestra sits eager and smiling, they know what’s coming. The audience chatters with nervous anticipation as the tuning begins; the lights dim as our conductor, Jan Latham-Koenig steps onto the stage. Polite applause and then silence.

‘L’italiana in Algeri’ (‘The Italian girl in Algeri’). This overture by Gioachino Rossini was first played in 1813 and the style of Rossini is beautifully captured by the Flanders Symphony Orchestra. The pizzicato is masterful with a singular sound emanating from the entire orchestra, before breaking into the explosive energy that runs throughout Rossini’s dramatic opera. The bows of the violins raise and lower with an almost military precision and uniform motion. Latham-Koenig is acting as a stern captain at the helm of a swirling sea of music, his gestures pulsing energy into the orchestra with each commanding expression. His movements made me feel as though I was watching the oil painting ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ by Caspar David Friedrich come to life, with the orchestra as the fog before him.

‘Piano Concerto No.3’ by Ludwig van Beethoven was first played in Vienna 1803 and was recaptured on a windy evening by Filippo Gorini on piano. Latham-Koening relaxes and his movement gently guides the orchestra, as a painter would oil across canvas, until Gorini begins playing. Never before have I seen a man play the piano with such energy, skill and passion. The audience lost themselves in the mesmerising movement of his hands as each strike of the keys seems to strike Gorini with jolt of musical lightning. The sound throughout this concerto was so delicate and yet so powerful, the Rondo Allegro finale rousing the audience to give a thunderous and well-deserved round of applause.

‘Chrysanthemums’ by Giacomo Puccini was written in response to the death of Amadeo the First of Spain in 1890, and the sweeping emotions of loss and tragedy are carried throughout. Once again the focus and passion of the musicians really bring out the best in the piece, as its mournful tones overwhelmed the audience. This bold elegy as played by the Flanders Symphony Orchestra has an almost cinematic quality to it, and oddly evokes a great concern for the future of these incredible performances along with the skill needed to play them.

Symphony No.3 ‘The Scottish’ by Felix Mendelssohn. Words cannot accurately describe the sensation of this part of the performance. As the orchestra played they picked up an incredibly momentum; the violins shrieked like bolts of crackling lighting and the cellos retorted like the echoes of booming thunder. Latham-Koenig is conducting with great elation, the joy on his face is palpable as the music grows louder; by now each stroke of the bow is so aggressive I began expecting to see smoke rising from the strings at any moment. The finale is a triumphant swell that ends with the sound of intense and prolonged applause. The lights go up and the magic is over, I leave into the night air shivering, but not due to the cold.

Over the course of the evening many of the pieces played became some of my favourite pieces of classical music, and it made me think more about this art form and its future as I looked back and remembered all of the empty chairs in that theatre. If there is one thing I want to say to anyone reading this, it is this: don’t let these performances be classical music’s swan song, because performances such as these demand and deserve to be heard.

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