It’s an unusual pleasure to visit the Royal Orchestral Society, an amateur orchestra which was founded by the Duke of Edinburgh (not the present incumbent, but an earlier, violin-playing son of Queen Victoria) in 1872. This makes it London’s oldest orchestra in continuous existence, and Saturday’s concert marked the opening of their 145th season. Their first ever concert was conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and early visitors included Casals, Kreisler and Elgar.
Never resting on their very grand laurels, the orchestra’s present management had planned a world premiere by a Syrian pop composer. When this didn’t eventuate, for very understandable reasons, the ROS free-thinkingly decided instead to perform Berg’s Seven Early Songs; a gorgeous set of sounds, after which everyone around me was asking ‘Why don’t we hear this more often?’ The programme was completed with the Brahms Requiem. I loved the lightness and energy adopted by conductor Orlando Jopling in this performance. Despite some dark colours, the Requiem (Brahms’ own choice of biblical texts, no doomy Dies Irae) urges us to face the unhappiness of loss with consolation, and to seek light where we can find it.
This would seem the perfect music to hear on Remembrance Day. But its gentle, compassionate way of thinking is not to the fore at present. Returning from the Brahms concert, I watched the end of the British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance. The television broadcast appeared turbo-charged, like the four-feet tall polystyrene poppies I’ve seen displayed in some public places this year. I prefer to contemplate the wars of the last hundred years via the simple ceremony held yearly in our local park. A troop of sea scouts, male and female, march up to the war memorial, followed by choirboys and a vicar. A few people lay small wreaths and little wooden crosses, many of them commemorating an individual family member. Park users, joggers and dog walkers stop moving for a short while. The atmosphere is fragile and, even after all these years, numb. It feels exactly right.