Gemma New made her debut with The Hallé conducting three pieces for very large orchestra. We started with Lera Auerbach’s Icarus. In her programme note, the composer wrote that all her music is abstract. She gave this piece its title after it was written, and it is up to the listener how to connect with the music. Having said that, when encountering an unfamiliar piece of music with a title, we are bound at least to consider it in the light of that title. To me there was a considerable element of storytelling in Icarus which could be associated with the familiar tale from Greek mythology. On the other hand, it was a dazzling aural experience, sometimes very loud, sometimes very quiet and often very beautiful. The orchestration included a theremin, which combined magically with other instruments and created an intriguing and unexpected soundscape. No wonder this piece has had many performances across the world.

Laura van der Heijden and Gemma New
© The Hallé

New and The Hallé were joined by Laura van der Heijden for William Walton’s Cello Concerto, the piece with which she shot to fame when she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2012. It is obviously a work that is close to her. She played beautifully, reveling in the long melodic lines that were such a feature of the first movement in particular. In a pre-concert interview, van der Heijden said that she often thought of music in terms of images, and the beginning of this concerto suggested sunlight reflecting off rippling water, which for me encapsulated it nicely. The second movement was livelier: Walton handled the interplay between orchestra and soloist with a light touch, deftly switching from one mood to another. The finale is in the form of a theme and variations (designated "improvisations” here), of which the second and fourth are solo cadenzas with a purely orchestral section separating them. This gave van der Heijden the opportunity to show off her technical skill before leading the work to its calm and introspective conclusion.

It is almost exactly 75 years to the day since Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered Aaron Copland’s Symphony no. 3, a wonderful work that is rarely performed, at least in the UK. This is the Copland of his most popular ballet scores. The opening evokes the wide open spaces of America, well known throughout the world from cinema and television. The whole work exudes a positive, confident atmosphere, reflecting the time of its composition, toward the end of the Second World War when victory seemed certain. The third movement was intriguing: it began peacefully and built up to something livelier. The transformation was handled expertly by New, as was the gradual return to something slower and more mysterious. It was the finale, however, that left the greatest impression. Copland had composed his Fanfare for the Common Man a few years earlier and now incorporated it into his Third Symphony. There had been hints of it in earlier movements; now it came to the fore, first quietly and then in all its splendour with brass and percussion dominating. It was a glorious conclusion that the Bridgewater Hall audience received enthusiastically.

Gemma New conducts The Hallé
© The Hallé

It was a splendid debut for New. She appeared to have a great rapport with the orchestra and successfully marshaled over 100 musicians to produce stunning performances of largely unfamiliar music. The Hallé players took their many solos within all three works with style and skill. New gave them the acknowledgement they richly deserved at the end.