November 2017

The Scarborough Symphony Orchestra hit all the right notes with their concert on November 25th; two of the three pieces are among the most popular in the classical repertoire, the orchestra under Shaun Matthew was first-rate, and the soloist, the pianist Yuki Negishi,  was exceptional. The evening began with Nielsen’s ‘Imaginary Journey to the Faroe Islands’: written by Denmark’s foremost composer as a tribute to the music of the Danish Faroes, it proved to be an attractive and imaginative piece, well-suited to be an overture to Grieg’s well-known (and only) Piano Concerto. On a splendid Steinway, hired for the occasion, Yuki gave a spirited account of the work, full of virtuosic fireworks. The capacity audience gave her a well-deserved ovation. After the interval came Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Taken by Shaun at a very brisk pace, all movements took on a new light; the first and last movements were positively aggressive, perhaps reflecting the anguished suffering of black America, epitomised by the Spirituals Dvorak heard while he was in America. All sections of the orchestra were impressive: the woodwind as always excelled, the prominent role of the brass gave them a chance to shine, and the strings tackled their challenging parts confidently and ably. The orchestra’s decision to offer fewer concerts each season (four rather than six) in order to allow more weeks of rehearsal for each one has proved very worthwhile. Shaun demands the highest standards of them, and under his baton the orchestra continues to grow in stature; he is to be congratulated not only on last Saturday’s concert but also on his recent appointment to the distinguished Chineke! (sic) Orchestra, whom he conducted (in the same week!) in Southampton, Bristol and Cambridge. Chineke! means ‘fantastic’, and we wish him all the best in his new additional role. - Frank James

PS  We believe the audience was 375 strong! 

July 2017

For the final concert of their season on July 15th, Scarborough Symphony Orchestra gave us an evening of passion and excitement. They opened with Smetanas symphonic poem Richard III, inspired by a performance of Shakespeares play lately translated into Czechoslovakian. Here was the limping and ambitious king, confronted by the heroic Henry Tudor, and scenes of battle a-plenty as Smetana took us through the Wars of the Roses and on to Richards final defeat.

Richard III served as an excellent overture to Berliozs Herminie, for soprano and orchestra, which won him the Prix de Rome. Based on Tassos epic about the First Crusade, the songs portray the love of the (fictional) Saracen Herminie for the Christian knight Tancred, his injury in single combat, and her eventual defection to the Christian side in order to nurse Tancred back to health. Here was passion as well as bloodshed, and the soprano soloist, Gaynor Morgan, gave a dramatic and heartfelt performance of this challenging set of pieces, which demand a virtuosic and powerful voice. The accompaniment is difficult in the extreme, but Shaun Matthew kept the orchestra on an admirably tight rein throughout, and between them they gave a stunning performance, to be greeted with a well-deserved ovation by the audience.

The second half consisted of Brahmss Symphony No.1. Over twenty years in gestation, it is a monumental work. Often performances can be solid and worthy; but Shaun, with his customary balletic energy, focused more on bringing out the tensions and excitement in the work. It was a performance full of contrasts of dynamics and tempi, and showed many passages in a new light. All credit to orchestra and conductor!

The Scarborough Symphony Orchestra, under Shaun Matthew, continues to consolidate its reputation for excellence. Scarborough is fortunate to be able to host them.

May 2017

Queen Street Central Hall on Saturday hosted another outstanding concert given by the Scarborough Symphony Orchestra under their conductor Shaun Matthew. The programme opened with the Courtly Dances from Benjamin Brittens opera Gloriana. Written for the Coronation celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II, the opera was not well-received at the time, Brittens modern vocal style being seen as inappropriate for such a traditional occasion. However, the Courtly Dances reflected the forms and idioms of the Renaissance, and, separated from the opera, were immediately popular as
an orchestral suite. The orchestra captured their lively rhythms with enthusiasm, and, played without a break, the suite made an excellent opener.

The Trumpet Concerto by John Carmichael is a wonderful work. Modern yet tuneful, and full of dynamic and rhythmic interest, it encapsulates all the aspects of the solo instrument: martial, ceremonial, melodic and even jazzy! Niall McEwen, with Shauns help, gave an exemplary reading of it. Particularly noteworthy was the impressive cadenza in the last movement, where the trumpet is (unusually) joined by flute and harp. The concert was graced by the presence of the composer, who had travelled up specially from London, and came forward at the end to congratulate Niall and to acknowledge the applause of the large and highly appreciative audience.

The second half was devoted to Vaughan Williamss London Symphony. The composer here uses a broad canvas on which to paint his fascinating tone-picture of Edwardian London, and the constantly varying tempi and time-signatures make for a challenge for any orchestra; but Shaun kept the orchestra and the audience on the edge of their seats throughout. The loud passages (with 65 players in all) were impressive, but the extremely quiet passages were equally memorable. Shaun is now building a well-deserved international reputation; long may he continue as the orchestras conductor.

February 2017

The bitterly cold weather on Saturday night failed to deter a record audience from attending Queen Street Methodist Hall for the concert given by Scarborough Symphony Orchestra. The programme opened with Haydns Symphony No.104, his last, written and first performed on his visit to London in 1795; the composers quirky touches were underlined by the orchestra, who gave a spirited performance of the symphony.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Beethovens lesser-known 2nd Symphony, premiered only seven years after Haydns 104th, at the time when Beethoven was struggling to come to terms with his increasing deafness. It is a hugely impressive work, full of Beethovens sudden changes of dynamics and unexpected harmonies. The symphony was poorly received when first performed, being compared by one critic to the death agonies of a hideously writhing wounded dragon. (One can only wonder what the first performance sounded like!) All credit is due to the orchestra for tackling this challenging work so enthusiastically, and for Shaun Matthew their conductor for steering them through it so convincingly.

The bouquet of the evening, though, went (literally!) to young Jess Gillam, who played Heaths Celtic Concerto on soprano saxophone so brilliantly. The work was conceived during Heaths time with the Scottish Ensemble during the 1990s, and much of the music reflects the folk music of the country. Having last year became the first saxophonist ever to win the Woodwind Final of the Young Musician of the Year, Jess, accompanied ably by the strings only, gave a compellingly dramatic performance of this unusual but very approachable work; Shaun ensured that the orchestra stayed with her sympathetically throughout. Jess, now 18, and a student at the Royal Northern College of Music, has already been very widely acclaimed; we hope she will return to Scarborough before long!

Shaun Matthew
Anthony Mason
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Scarborough Symphony Orchestra is a Registered Charity: Charity Number 1125060.
Concert Venue: Methodist Central Hall, Queen Street, Scarborough, YO11 1HQ