Triumph and Passion with the Bournemouth SO

Will Wilkins (year 3) reports on an exciting and enlightening visit to the BSO: Last Tuesday, January 23rd, it was my great pleasure to visit a Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra rehearsal at the Lighthouse in Poole as part of a delegation from the Southampton University Music Department. The orchestra were in their second day of rehearsals for their ‘Triumph and Passion’ concerts, which were performed in Poole, Portsmouth, and Exeter over the following three days.

The day began with Aram Khachaturian’s breath-taking Adagio from Spartacus, and we also saw work being done on the legendary Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky. The remaining piece on the programme, which was rehearsed after lunch, was Shostakovich’s second Piano Concerto.

The visit was organised by Southampton University’s Associate Professor in Composition, Dr. Benjamin Oliver, through his connections with BSO’s Head of Participate, Lisa Tregale. We arrived in a wet and windy Poole in time to be briefed by Lisa and be seated in the magnificent auditorium before baton down at 10am. Several people commented how punctually the rehearsals began, and it was explained that any deviation from the schedule, which was given to the musicians several months in advance, would be unthinkable. This is in stark contrast to the amateur ensembles we are used to, where rehearsals are often changed at short notice, start late, or overrun!

The high standard of the orchestra was immediately apparent. Southampton student Lilian Lee noted that the musicians were obviously very familiar with their own parts, allowing the conductor to focus immediately on finer musical detail and expression. Even before he spoke, the skill on display was spectacular, with the highly atmospheric Adagio a particular highlight.

A lot of interest was focussed around the conductor, Mikhail Tatarnikov, who was working with the orchestra for the first time. It was fascinating to see Mikhail and the orchestra get to know each other through the rehearsal, with leader Amyn Merchant working especially hard to ensure the two parties understood each other. This is a problem which rarely has to be overcome in student ensembles, who predominantly work with the same conductor over a longer period, and this makes the role of leader in an orchestra such as the BSO even more important. This was particularly interesting to me as an aspiring conductor, and the depth of expression Mikhail managed to wring from the orchestra in so little time was inspiring to watch.

Current students with alum Alex Segrave

At lunchtime, the stage was rearranged to bring in a piano for soloist Boris Giltburg. This was another eye-opener for us, as instead of using the orchestra’s own instrument, he had brought his own Fazioli grand piano with him! While this was happening, we were treated to a fascinating Q&A session with BSO’s Concerts Manger Alex Segrave, who is himself a Southampton University alumnus. Alex talked about how he had secured a job with the BSO after gaining experience as an intern at the Southbank Centre, which is of course home to the London Philharmonic Orchestra. We discussed the importance and difficulty of acquiring relevant experience as a graduate, but it was reassuring to see that a recent graduate from our university has been so successful within the BSO.

This brought to a close what was a greatly enjoyable and informative visit, summed up by Southampton flautist Bethany Lee as “a very inspiring morning. I truly felt I was watching masters at their work.” I certainly agree.