In sport, there are moments where professionals elevate the game they play beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. Those blink-and-you’ve missed-it moments of genius that make spectators leap to their feet, punching the air; a Wayne Rooney bicycle-kick, Tiger Woods holing an impossible chip, Usain Bolt obliterating the competition, or Jason Kenny coming from behind to win cycling gold. Spectator reaction is instantaneous, spontaneous and guaranteed. In truth, music is not far removed from this; certainly the physical skills are just as refined, perhaps the parameters for improvised genius less apparent (at least in classical music), but there were moments during the performance given by the Merriman Concert Orchestra on Friday night that deserved spectators leaping to their feet in celebration. The beautiful and rarified atmosphere of the refurbished Cranleigh School Chapel does not necessarily lend itself to emotive outbursts from an audience, but the appreciation of the musical quality on show was warm and genuine.
The world of the concerto soloist is remarkably similar to that of elite performers in sport; hundreds of hours of preparation for just a few minutes in performance. These hours are spent refining the smallest details of a technically challenging work, which, in the concerto genre, is then brought together at the last minute with the orchestra for what can amount to little more than a run-through rehearsal on the day. It can be both nerve-wracking and exciting, and intellectually and physically demanding. Cranleigh School’s Head of Strings, Kevin Weaver, was the soloist in Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G minor, and brought a wonderfully refined musicianship to this work. Mr Weaver was in complete technical control of the considerable physical demands of the concerto, and focused this with intellectual clarity, discarding indulgent romantic cliché in favour of elegance, intimate simplicity and a fresh consideration of the composer’s intentions. The warmth of the relationship he has with this orchestra as its long-serving leader was palpable, and the audience recognized the elevation of his art with certainty, in the same way they appreciate sporting talent.
Under the baton of Marcus Pashley, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.5 was handled with expert care, and expressed the full range of Romantic symphonic emotion. Featuring several full-time and visiting staff, plus one Lower Sixth student, Jonathan Marsh, the orchestra responded well to Mr Pashley’s tempi, and featured some gloriously plangent clarinet, bassoon and horn solos. The heavy artillery of an excellent brass section furnished this most popular of symphonies with appropriate drama and grandeur, and the string section was tight and coherent under the expert leadership of Leena Kantlin-Weaver. From the opening elegance of Mozart’s Overture to the Magic Flute, to the Russian Romanticism of Tchaikovsky, this was a most enjoyable concert of well-loved orchestral classics.
Head of Performance