When I first heard about Aurora Orchestra’s perfomances of classical symphonies from memory I thought it might be some kind of promotional gimmick; yet another prioritisation of what classical music looks like over how it sounds. On attending one of these events for the first time though, I realised that my instinctive reaction was quite unjustified, maybe arising from a general mistrust of orchestras in outreach mode. Because it has been revelatory to experience, for instance, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony from this 'viewpoint', both visual and musical.

For a start, the orchestra, nearly all standing up and free of the clutter of stands and music, look much healthier, and as if they are enjoying the music, bodies chiming with the rhythms. But the musical details somehow sound clearer too; when someone has a solo, they tend to project it joyfully. Last weekend’s concert at the Festival Hall allowed the group to change floor positions in new, judiciously chosen formats, between movements. How wonderful therefore, at the end of the second movement, to see/hear first oboe and flute trilling birdsong solos to each other from opposite ends of the platform, rather than clumped on top of each other, as in the normal orchestral array. And I thought it adorable that when normal lighting was restored after having gone out in mid-performance (deliberately – playing in the dark is another Aurora skill) we could see that the the trumpets and trombones, only needed for the finale, had appeared onstage as if by magic. And so, for the first time ever, I listened to what the trombones do in the Pastoral Symphony.

This was a beautifully conceived concert, with the first half repertoire (Oiseaux Exotiques and Brett Dean’s own Pastoral Symphony) introduced by exquisite projections by Annalisa Salis/William Reynolds and recorded programme notes spoken by Samuel West. The spell was never broken; it was notable that conductor Nicholas Collon didn’t speak to the audience until afer the concert was over. Only Ligeti’s Poeme symphonique (the one with the 100 metronomes – one of which is pictured at work on the RFH stage, surrounded by audience-generated origami birds) didn’t seem to pack a punch. I’m not sure if many of the young people seated near me recognised these weird little machines or could guess their original function.




© Judith Weir, 2020