As one of the headline acts for the newly established Bristol Proms, award-winning British violinist Daniel Hope played alongside the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra for the first orchestral performance on the Bristol Old Vic Theatre stage for over a century. Inspired by the popular promenade concerts held at the theatre in the 1800s, this Prom demonstrated a more relaxed approach to classical music. Bristol Old Vic artistic director Tom Morris compèred the event, introducing the concert by telling the audience to applause “whenever” we liked, which in itself received a roaring response from the theatre.

Daniel Hope © Harald Hoffmann / Deutsche Grammophon
Daniel Hope
© Harald Hoffmann / Deutsche Grammophon

The programme for the evening was diverse. The concert opened with Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins in A minor, R522, which was followed by Johann Paul von Westhoff’s Imitazione delle Campane (arranged by Christian Badzura) and Alan Ridout’s story of Ferdinand the Bull. For the second half, the selling point of the performance, Max Richter’s The Four Seasons Recomposed was played alongside a reactive 3D animation on a big screen created by Play Nicely.

Between the pieces there were lengthy talks about the composers and their works. It felt at times as though Daniel Hope was reading a Wikipedia document on his iPad and deviated a bit too far from the piece that was about to be performed. The talks were nevertheless informative, and evolved into a full-scale lecture comparing opening excerpts of each of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Max Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed post-interval. We were also given a technology lecture as to how the players were linked up to gaming software to create a 3D animation entirely dependent on the live performance of the music. I found myself, by the end of this, just longing to hear Richter’s piece in full.

Daniel Hope is definitely a frontman on stage. He has strong presence, and plays with a dynamic motion and a bold sound. At one point during Westhoff’s Imitazione delle Campane, Hope was up on his toes and then leaning towards the ground to find the notes and throw himself into the melodies. This was the most challenging piece he played in terms of musical technicality, and was rather beautiful. The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra underpinned his complex solo with a softly played and slow rhythm, keeping the time of the piece. Short and sweet at under two minutes long, Hope described Westhoff’s Imitazione delle Campane as one of the most remarkable pieces to come out of the Baroque era.

In the opening Vivaldi concerto, Hope played alongside Patrick Savage. It was a more conventional performance, though rather than playing together, Savage and Hope appeared to have a play-off on stage. As a result, the main melodies of the concerto became rather lost, but the two-man display combined with an all-standing Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra did not lack excitement.

Having already challenged himself on stage, with one piece alongside another soloist and one very technically demanding, Hope went on to play and narrate Alan Ridout’s 1971 version of Ferdinand the Bull. As the technology was already there, it would have been great to see the 1930s Disney animation on the screen, perhaps as a silent picture like the Richter, but Hope told the story humorously and created fun voices for the characters.

One of the musical highlights of Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed – of the evening, in fact – was Summer 3. It was an emotionally charged piece of music in which Hope and the orchestra had a strong connection. The animation on the screen showed moving imagery of lightning and summer storms above glowing yellow fields that rippled in time to the fast rhythms of the violins based on Vivaldi’s relentless continuo. Hope did the sustained high notes justice towards the close of the piece and although seemingly discordant with the orchestra at times, the strain between the slightly off-pitch melody added to the drama of the piece. It came as no surprise that this was the piece played as the encore. Both times it was performed Summer 3 led to a standing ovation and whistles from the audience.

***11