Alexander Vedernikov led the BBC Symphony Orchestra in three programmes for his return to the St Magnus Festival. Now celebrating its 40th year, the Orkney-based midsummer celebration of the arts is one of Britain’s most well regarded and adventurous cultural destinations.
On Wednesday, 22nd June, Vedernikov and the Orchestra were joined by Russian pianist Alexei Volodin, who gave the first concerto performance on the Festival’s new Steinway with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18. The exuberant and virtuosic programme also featured Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla, excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and “Ritual Dances” from Tippet’s exploration of love, death and enlightenment, The Midsummer Marriage.
On Friday, 24th June, the curtains of the orchestra were pulled back to reveal the secrets of the symphony with “The Orchestra Unwrapped”. For this rare, interactive experience, Vedernikov and the BBCSO intermixed performing selections fromWagner (Lohengrin Prelude Act 3), Tchaikovsky (Symphony No. 4, 3rd movement), Grieg (Peer Gynt Suite No 1), Sibelius (Valse Triste) and Richard Strauss (Don Juan) with questions from the audience, illustrating everything from why do the strings sit where they do to why is the conductor there.
For their final collaboration of the festival, on Saturday, 25th June, Maestro and Orchestra were joined by soprano Ailish Tynan, mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, tenor Nicholas Mulroy, bass-baritone Stephan Loges, the St Magnus Festival Chorus, under chorus director Denise Stout for a powerful, personal and moving programme that the organisers of the Festival said, “celebrates freedom, brotherhood and togetherness”.
The concert opened with two works that honour the sea: Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet and A Cage of Doves by Sally Beamish, who has enjoyed a long connection with the festival, before giving a stirring performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (Choral), Op. 125.
“As the European Union anthem – Beethoven’s setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy – sounded out with extraordinarily heartfelt conviction, it was the culmination of a resolute performance of the Choral Symphony that was fired with emotion from the first bar. Life-affirming music, transcending every boundary, conductor Alexander Vedernikov shaped and moulded it, often without a baton, in complete empathy with orchestra, chorus and soloists.”
Vedernikov will next meet to lead the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms on 23rd August. They will be joined by pianist Stephen Hough for Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, before concluding with Prokofiev’s 3rd Symphony.