Unique climax dazzles audience as exclusive performance comes to town

PUBLISHED: 11:45 12 September 2019 | UPDATED: 13:01 12 September 2019

Aurora Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon. Photo: Nick Rutter.

Aurora Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon. Photo: Nick Rutter.


An ocean of musical bohemia cascaded over Saffron Hall this week.

Aurora Orchestra. Photo: Nick Rutter.Aurora Orchestra. Photo: Nick Rutter.

Leading chamber orchestra in Europe, Aurora Orchestra, led by Nicholas Collon as conductor, introductory speaker and narrator, was joined by actor Mathew Baynton for Tuesday evening's performance.

They provided a unique rendition of the already unconventional 'Fantastic Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist' by Hector Berlioz, combining sound, drama and lights.

This was built upon what seem to be obvious resemblances to drama within the symphony, since it is narrating the artist's life, typically with no words involved. By introducing Mathew, the original abstract alter ego became explicit.

The performance of Berlioz's work was particularly unique due to the fact that it was played from memory and in exclusivity at Saffron Hall, ahead of its London premiere at the BBC Proms today (Thursday).

A prolonged version of the commonly encountered leitmotif was used by Berlioz throughout the performance. This is perhaps perfectly representative of his obsession with actress Harriet Smithson, who inspired him to compose this symphony. She played Shakespeare's Ophelia and Juliet in front of his eyes in Paris, and, as a result, he later admitted she 'appears to him as a melody, an obsessive idea that he keeps hearing wherever he goes'.

The symphony, which illustrates particular scenarios musically, was played in five movements, all evocative variations of a tumult of feelings, ranging from desolation and despair to erraticism and excitement, caused by his love for Harriet.

It is difficult to find a flaw in this performance. But, since we are speaking about Berlioz, who was morbidly passionate through music as he himself seems to have admitted, it is almost impossible to not want to follow Aurora Orchestra's Berlioz exploring journey.

Undoubtedly, the complexity of combining audio-visual arts and putting the music sheets away to intend to achieve the 'intimacy' Berlioz recommended for performances of his work, led the Aurora a step closer to a more accurate display and stronger understanding of this masterpiece than other orchestras you might witness.

As such, although by 'Fantastic' the composer probably referred to the absurd life and love encompass, as I was leaving the venue, I heard a member of the public asking: 'wasn't it fantastic?'. Perhaps the term was not meant in the way Berlioz intended his masterpiece, but both meanings were certainly fulfilled by the performance.

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