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Successful stage return for the Bermuda Philharmonic

Conductor Breanna Thornton of the Bermuda School of Music brought youth, energy, empathy and an intense yet unobtrusive physicality to sculpting the music, says Mike Jones

The Bermuda Philharmonic Society is now back in full strength. After the long pandemic pause it has now reassembled and fielded a fully-rehearsed 40-piece orchestra composed of talented local musicians.

On Sunday they gave us a richly-textured, deeply satisfying musical voyage through space and time to places and cultures from around the globe.

Conductor Breanna Thornton of the Bermuda School of Music brought youth, energy, empathy and an intense yet unobtrusive physicality to sculpting the music.

Her concentration and energy were infectious because in turn they imbued each performance with a “just written yesterday” type of freshness.

First stop was London, England circa 1900. Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No. 4 embodied all the swagger and pageantry of the British Empire at its peak.

But it wasn’t really as simple as that. The tempo was a march, though I felt it was self-conscious and slightly comedic despite all its implied pomposity.

The underlying theme emerged as a Land of Hope and Glory style melody but subtly different and not as redolent of jingoistic singing. Volume built slowly to major funfair band levels, almost too loud, leading through accelerated tempos to a huge final military brassy blast which made one think of the looming tragedy of World War One.

We moved back to 1888 and Elgar’s Salut d’Amour, dedicated to his fiancée Alice Roberts.

It’s an unabashed, intimate, completely sincere declaration of romantic adoration which showed the composer at his most private and formed a complete contrast to the foregoing.

Next, London in 1933 and Holst’s three movement Brook Green Suite written expressly for the abilities of the junior orchestra of the school where the composer taught.

After a prelude suggestive of an English summer countryside, the second movement improvised on the melody of Greensleeves which slowly changed to a waltz-like ending over string pizzicato.

The final dance is suggestive of a spontaneous country village community stomp, a bit like Breughel’s peasants having pure knees-up style fun.

Written in 1948, Danzas de Panama by African-American composer William Grant Still was a study in multiple form, constantly changing in tempo, mood and rhythm performed by the orchestra’s string body.

Players moved from instantly recognisable popular themes such as Jarabe Tapiato (the Mexican Hat Dance) and then slowed to a bass stop before changing to a waltz, before veering back to a 6/4 theme which reminded one of close harmony choral singing of the 19th century.

The tempo increased exponentially to a blazing series of syncopated dialogues leading to a fortissimo finale. Our string players perfectly performed all these rapid changes with flawless technique.

Our final stop was Czechoslovakia in the 1870s with Smetana’s sound picture of the river Moldau.

At some 230 kilometres, it’s not a particularly long river, and in 1870 Czechoslovakia didn’t exist. But it did in Smetana’s mind.

Using the sound of multiple flutes to perfectly evoke the natural meandering flow of spring waters, he slowly introduced a powerful hymn-like folk theme similar to We Walk A Narrow Way.

Images of weddings and dances along the banks give way to insistent and urgent calls from brass and percussion sections.

The music swelled into a thrilling triumphal theme before fading with ethereal strings taking us to the limits of audibility.

The Sense of Place concert by these talented players marked a wonderful return of orchestral music for Bermuda.

The Bermuda Philharmonic Society performed A Sense of Place on Sunday at St John’s Church in Pembroke

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Published November 22, 2022 at 7:51 am (Updated November 22, 2022 at 7:51 am)

Successful stage return for the Bermuda Philharmonic

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