It was a very modern concert – Bach, Bruch and Beethoven. OK the music was old, but everything else was designed to make listening to an orchestra play classical music easy for today’s audiences. Tickets were scanned in with a QR matrix barcode; helpful, informative programmes were given out free of charge with a pen and comment sheet; complementary and easily accessible refreshments were available before the start and during the interval, so there was no undignified queueing. And, because there was no large gathering point backstage for the orchestra, they assembled onstage, warmed up, and chatted away cheerfully. The leader, David Milsom, then took charge and they tuned up in traditional fashion. Finally, Quentin Clare, conductor and founder of the Brigantes, strode on to warm, optimistic applause.

Quentin Clare © Eduardus Lee
Quentin Clare
© Eduardus Lee

The Bach was actually an arrangement of the well-known Chaconne from his solo violin sonata, made by Joachim Raff, and there was a mildly embarrassing false start – fortunately the only ‘unprofessional’ occurrence of the evening. However, because Bach’s Chaconne makes huge demands on any violinist who dares to play it, Raff’s arrangement also makes huge demands. This left the chamber orchestra sized string section a little exposed at times. That said, it was an absorbing and at times moving performance.

There was more warm, optimistic applause when violinist Lisa Jacobs took the stage to play Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, but what the audience was not prepared for was the wonderful, fresh and dramatic interpretation of an old concert war-horse. Jacobs is well known for her passionate performances, but to experience it at first hand in a venue that isn’t huge, was a privilege. The orchestra responded too, and in the first two movements, Jacobs’ wildly emotional playing was amplified by the haunting beauty of the woodwind and the full power of the brass. The finale is all about rhythm, and Jacobs attacked it not just with the bow, but with her whole body, throwing off the virtuoso passages easily, and once again the orchestra responded, Clare driving the whole into a frenzied dance. Naturally the hall erupted into whoops, insisting on an encore, so Jacobs gave them the Sarabande from the opening Bach sonata.

The audience, helpfully restored by the (non-alcoholic) refreshments, was certainly in the mood for more after the interval. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is played by orchestras of many different sizes today, and The Brigantes used an interesting blend of old and new. The number of strings and woodwind (including double bassoon) was in line with many period performances, but the instruments themselves were modern, with today’s more powerful brass; revolutionary though their use in a symphony was, Beethoven’s trombones were narrow bore. Clare used these new forces to good effect – the brass were relatively subdued in the first movement, so the contrasts in the string phrasing between the frantic detached quavers and the smoother passages gave added interest.

After the restful second movement, Beethoven returns to his revolutionary intentions with two linked, final movements. The mysterious pianissimo opening of the third exposed some intonation problems between cello and double bass, but they made up for it with a really dynamic trio section, and the returning Scherzo then led triumphantly to the finale where the brass were given full rein. Beethoven’s triumph was also a triumph for the orchestra here – Clare blending all sections of it into a powerful unity.

Establishing a new professional orchestra is a big ask, but this was a great start.