The Eastbourne Concert Orchestra entertained a large and appreciative audience with a festive programme of music earlier this month in the stately neo-gothic interior of All Saints church. The programme included an excellent mixture of classical repertoire and Christmas favourites beloved by the audience and orchestra alike. The concert was introduced by the ECO’s chairman, Mr Brian Waters MBE, who welcomed the audience which included Madame Deputy Mayor and a party of Ukrainians before introducing the ECO’s charismatic conductor, Simon Gower.
The first half of the concert began with a stirring rendering of Finlandia by Sibelius. The brass section, reinforced by a tuba, brought an air of menace to the opening chords of this tone poem expressing Finnish nationalism in opposition to Russian oppression. A clip of the orchestra performing Finlandia is available on the Eastbourne Concert Orchestra’s Facebook page and is well worth a listen. Viennese music is more usually associated with the New Year; in anticipation of this, the orchestra performed a medley of the waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. The medley included musical elements satirising Viennese coffee society and included a charming violin and ‘cello duet played masterfully by the section leaders.
Both halves of the concert featured “Egyptian” music: in the first, a suite of ballet music, stylistically reminiscent of The Two Ronnies and, in the second, a slightly spooky and comic march by Johann Strauss in which the percussion section featured prominently.
Before the interval, the ECO played three dances from Smetana’s opera, The Bartered Bride. The first two – a polka and a furiant – were Czech folk dances before scurrying violins portrayed agile circus acrobats and the trombones relished a deliberately written wrong note in The Dance of the Comedians.
The second half of the concert was more light-hearted, in keeping with the festive spirit- the players had adorned themselves with Christmas decorations in the interval, with tinsel, fairy lights and full Christmas suits on offer – and began with Leroy Anderson’s Christmas Festival, a medley of familiar carols orchestrated with American panache and spizzazz.
In contrast, Tchaikovsky’s Rose Adagio exemplified Russian music at its most serene: dominated by a warm and powerful string melody followed by a blazing trumpet melody at the apotheosis of this luxurious ballet music. The conductor invited the audience to sing two carols. Whilst encouraging them with good-natured banter, he noted that this was the first time in three years that audience participation could be done and the audience revelled in the opportunity to sing together, including having a go at the descant in O Come All Ye Faithful.
The concert marked the retirement of the orchestra’s 1st Clarinet, who had played in the ECO for over 30 years, and he was warmly congratulated by all. The programme ended with a delightful rendering of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride and a softer orchestral version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The orchestra performed with style and panache throughout the concert and the audience delivered a standing ovation in recognition of the wonderful evening of festive entertainment they had experienced.
The Eastbourne Concert orchestra’s next concert will be given at Eastbourne Town Hall on Tuesday 21st March 2023 and will include works by Rossini and Mendelssohn.