As Birmingham-born Alpesh Chauhan builds his reputation towards becoming a conductor much in demand, so the CBSO finds itself in the fortunate position of securing the services of Mirga Gražytė-Tyla as Andris Nelsons’ successor as Music Director, with a chance to grow Chauhan as Assistant Conductor. He has developed a skill to build rapport with his orchestras, confirmed by a young viola player from Stourbridge telling the story of a Saturday morning rehearsal with this “really cool guy” who requested his players to “forget their heavy Weetabix breakfast and to play as if they had eaten a light berry breakfast”.

Alpesh Chauhan © operaomnia.co.uk
Alpesh Chauhan
© operaomnia.co.uk
He has been carefully mentored: at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester he was tutored by CBSO cello favourite, Eduardo Vassallo, before studying to become a conductor, joining CBSO to be mentored by Andris Nelsons. Chauhan’s recent good fortune now extends to conducting the UK première of Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul with none other than Vassallo as soloist; definitely a script well written!

Golijov was exposed to klezmer music at an early age and the work of Piazzolla during his early life in Argentina. Both influences are explored in Azul, a very moving 2006 composition requiring the most extravagant percussion unit seen at CBSO concerts for a long while. Responsibility for compiling this vast array of instruments, including cajon, dumbek, darabuka, djembe and waterphone falls to Aidy Spillett, percussion section leader, who shot to prominence in 1998 as winner of the BBC Young Musician prize, later to become director of the vibrant, exciting percussion quartet 4-MALITY.

Golijov’s five part composition opened with flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic accompanying a strong cello lead before the introduction of the high-powered percussion unit positioned close to the conductor, whilst the double basses provided an ethereal contribution from a concentric arc positioned close to the choir stalls and behind the wind section. Vassalo demonstrated exceptional concentration in the blissfully played Silencia, the longest part, supported by extraordinarily sensitive interpretations of moods by the percussionists, accompanied by accordion player, Mark Bousie. During this part, conductor Chauhan was happy to put his baton down to allow the sublime cello sound to float above the clever innovative percussion before regaining control with a full orchestral flourish. Strings played ricochet with bows in the left hand and downward glissandi with the right, serving to produce high energy waves calling to alien life occurring beyond the Symphony Hall’s entranced audience. Chauhan, Vassallo and the Spillett team received the well-deserved standing ovation from many moved by the remarkable earthling performance.

Quotations from Rossini and Wagner litter Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony. Extracts from the William Tell overture and fate leitmotivs from Die Walküre and Siegfried signal a premonition to listeners, written just four years before the composer’s death. Chauhan has a wonderful feel for the music, dispensing with his baton to rely on hand movements to do his bidding. This he achieves most spectacularly in the third movement as first the violins and, later, the brass sections combine with the percussion unit to produce a sharp scherzo. With Wagner leitmotivs again evident in the last movement, Chauhan contrived to bring this puzzling symphony to a delicate, yet very competently delivered conclusion.

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