14th July

A sizeable audience had left the July heat outside to attend the last of the current season of concerts by the Scarborough symphony Orchestra. They were not disappointed. The first item in the all-French programme was Debussy͛s ever-popular Prelude à l ͛apres-midi d͛un faune͛. The Spa orchestra͛s Kathy Seabrook had joined for the night to play its all-important flute part, and the piece exuded French sensuosity from the outset. Debussy was followed by Honegger, whose cello concerto was played by Yorkshire musician Christine Waldock. Although structurally a fairly conservative work, it shows the influence of the light music of the 1920͛s. Technically demanding, it also explores all the potential of the cello as an instrument, and Christine gave a superb account of it, alternating between virtuoso passages of extreme rapidity and eloquent melodic phrases. Her performance, supported by the 60-strong orchestra under the firm baton of conductor Shaun Matthew, was much enjoyed and enthusiastically applauded. We wish Christina well with her many and varied musical activities.

The second half of the concert was devoted to César Franck͛s Symphony in D minor. His only symphony, coming at the end of his long career as a teacher and organist, was seriously under-rehearsed for its first performance by students at the Paris Conservatoire, and was greeted unenthusiastically both by the audience, who found it too Germanic, and by the critics of the day, who failed to understand the cyclical approach to composition used here by Franck. Since then however it has become much loved, and it was impressively interpreted by Shaun and the orchestra.

Over the thirteen years that he has conducted the orchestra Shaun has worked tirelessly to improve its standard and to widen its repertoire, and this season showed just how far the orchestra has come. Scarborough can be proud of it!

Frank James

May 5 2018

Despite forecast traffic and parking problems due to the end of the Tour de Yorkshire on Saturday, both players and audience made it through to Queen St Central Hall for the penultimate concert of the Scarborough Symphony Orchestra’s season. It was an ambitious programme, with two of the three items being ‘firsts’. Bach’s C Minor Passacaglia had had a make-over from Paul Wilson, a member of the orchestra, whose piece ‘fig.j’ the orchestra performed in 2015. Paul gave the piece, originally for organ, a full-orchestra treatment, featuring the woodwind and percussion sections extensively; it underlined well the intricate contrapuntal lines. This was followed by Pauer’s Concerto for French Horn – a double first, being the first UK performance of the work and the first time an SSO concert had included a horn concerto. Soloist Ben Goldscheider was the winner in the brass section of the BBC Young Musician competition in 2016, (the same year in which recent saxophone soloist Jess Gillam made her mark). Ben played with supreme confidence throughout this challenging work, written while Czechoslovakia was under soviet control. The first movement could indeed have represented the struggle of the proletariat(!), while the second had some lovely quiet moments, and both orchestra and soloist, guided by Shaun Matthew’s ever-clear baton, coped superbly with the complex Czech-influenced rhythms of the final movement. It was a memorable performance from the young horn-player, forecast to be headed for a stellar career; the audience’s response said it all!

Tchaikovsky’s well-known 4th symphony formed the second half of the concert; excellent solo work throughout from individual players, and Shaun whipped the orchestra through the last movement at a positively furious pace. A great evening: hats off to all, especially to the augmented percussion section, who coped unflinchingly with the demands of Pauer, Bach/Wilson and Tchaikovsky!

February 3  2018

Last Saturday’s well-attended concert at Queen St Central Hall was the third in the Scarborough Symphony Orchestra’s season. Unusually it also featured the Scarborough Choral Society, fresh from their successful Christmas Oratorio in December. Orchestra and choir (numbering in all well over 100!) opened the programme with Aaron Copland’s ‘Old American Songs’. This was a product (in 1902) of his decision to write ‘American Music’, and he had assembled ten well-known all-American tunes for the occasion, some of them well-known over here. Although the melodies are tuneful and straightforward, Copland’s arrangements represent quite a challenge for orchestra and choir alike, and it was good to see Shaun Matthew keeping the two forces firmly together throughout; the choir sang with gusto, and despite the unfamiliar setting and accompaniment acquitted themselves with credit – with their conductor Evelyn Halford taking a supportive place in the ranks of the sopranos. It was an impressive collaboration.

Della Blood’s performance of the one-movement Chaminade Flute Concertino was brilliantly successful; her playing of this difficult piece was technically impeccable, and she captured well the character of the music. Shaun ensured that the orchestra supported rather than dominated the flute, and the applause at the end was evidence of how much the performance had been enjoyed - provoking a well-merited encore from Della: Debussy’s lovely piece Syrinx, written for unaccompanied flute. Thank you, Della!

Brahm’s Second Symphony is a very big work, but perhaps more approachable than the First, which the orchestra played last season. Shaun steered the orchestra through all the various changes of tempo and dynamics to produce a polished and energetic performance; the combined forces of Shaun and the orchestra (not forgetting their hard-working Leader, violinist Tony Mason) once again proved themselves equal to the considerable challenge of this massive work. A thoroughly enjoyable concert!

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