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Cambridge live

Preview of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Above: Esther Yoo

On 5 May Cambridge Corn Exchange will play host to both its current Artist and Orchestra in Residence, the young internationally acclaimed violinist, Esther Yoo, and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a partnership likely to impress many as close to perfection.

The programme begins with Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite, written to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian writer, Ludvig Baron Holberg. The suite’s title meaning ‘music from Holberg’s time,’ alternates between movements vigorous and melodic (1st & 5th) and others introspective, devotional, almost Bach-like (2nd & 4th). Best known and often played separately is movement 3, whose infectious melody, full of joie de vivre, is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Russian composer Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto is ‘far too underplayed for what it has to offer,’ says Esther Yoo. She adds, ‘the orchestration is great and it’s nice to introduce a piece that is not so often played to audiences.’

The concerto is unusual, not only in that all 3 movements flow into each other without pauses, but also in that the first movement, usually the longest in a concerto, is here the shortest, only giving a taste of what is to come. The 2nd is expressive of deep romanticism and longing, while the fireworks really burst and develop in the 3rd. ‘It might take less stamina than other concertos because of its shorter length,’ says Esther, ‘but it takes a lot of focus and quick shifts of gear.’

Esther is looking forward to playing it on the Stradivarius violin on loan to her. Is there anything an audience should listen out for which would help them to understand what makes these instruments so different from others?

‘Strads are known for their tone quality, elegance and colour,’ she replies, ‘and there’s quite a noticeable difference from the average violin. I really love the Strad I’m playing on because there’s an extensive range of depth and colour between the lower and higher registers, it’s very sensitive to every little detail of vibrato, speed and bow pressure.’

And of course all great musicians have a special affinity with their instruments. Oscar Peterson used to refer to his piano as his ‘wife.’ Horowitz used to have his own Steinway Grand shipped around the world for his concerts. And Esther has the same bond with her violin. She says: ‘my own history of playing on this Stradivarius (all the concerts and recordings I have done with it), give me a special connection to the instrument.’

This astonishing young virtuoso has just finished recording the soundtrack for the upcoming film ‘On Chesil Beach’ starring Academy Award Nominee, Saoirse Ronan. Her performance of the Glazunov is bound to be one of this season’s most memorable occasions.

The RPO concludes the concert with Brahms’s 1st Symphony in C Minor, a composition long in gestation as the composer strove to find his own voice within the great symphonic tradition he inherited. There are echoes of Beethoven’s 5th in the 1st movement, for example, and his 9th in the 4th. But the two central movements with their lovely melodies are essentially the lighter inventions of Brahms himself, and lyrical, sometimes pastoral, in expression.

The symphony as a whole progresses, it would seem, from darkness to light, and in the glorious statements of the final movement, to triumph over adversity.

A wonderful concert indeed next month for all classical music lovers to anticipate.

JOHN GILROY