Gustavo Dudamel made a welcome return to the BBC Proms after his debut with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra nearly 3 years ago. The Venezuelan-born conductor is music director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and chose to perform Ravel’s La Valse, a Clarinet Concerto (Peacock Tales) by Anders Hillborg and finally, to end the concert, the wonderful Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.

La Valse was finished towards the end of 1919 after nearly 13 years. Ravel had intended it to be for ballet, as well as a celebration of the Viennese Waltz. It starts with low rumbling basses, and shimmers from the strings, the tune played mostly by the woodwind section emerging amongst the magical, impressionistic darkness. Suddenly, there is a real sense of the waltz. One could certainly dance to this, as the tempo is, in my opinion, perfect. Dudamel balances the orchestra very well, where all the voices can be heard, and none are drowned by the other. The end finishes in rapture, with a very heavy percussive climax, the waltz rhythm being shattered in the last two bars, which reflects the trauma experienced by Ravel in the last few years.

Anders Hillborg’s Clarinet Concerto was especially written for the soloist, Martin Fröst and incorporates and dance, mime and lighting which is rather unusual. After a very simple, calm introduction with solo clarinet, the orchestra slowly joins in with heavy chords. The clarinet shrieks wildly, which seems to imitate the peacock. Martin Fröst, after a few minutes of playing, put on a peacock mask and started to dance/mime while the orchestra continued its long, held chords. The lighting changed colours, according to the colours of the music, which I thought was very clever. The visual aspect helps the audience understand the music. The whole piece is a journey through many different musical and emotional ‘stations’ where the soloist appears masked and unmasked at different periods. For those who have heard contemporary music before, this composition is not bad, but it is rather heavy for those who have not yet really explored contemporary composition.

There was a nice surprise when after a wonderful applause from the audience, Fröst decided to do an encore, arranged by his 'little brother' called ‘Be Happy’. Despite its carefree tune, it showed great technical ability from both the orchestra and the clarinetist, very much enjoyed by the audience.

The Berlioz lasted for nearly an hour and consisted of five movements, instead of the usual four. The symphony is what he called an ‘episode in the life of an artist’. Dudamel showed great concentration as he led his orchestra through the five movements, each with its own intense emotion. The work reflects Berlioz’s own personal experience with his love for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, which was a painful experience for him because she was barely aware of his existence.

After a ‘fantastique’ performance, Dudamel revealed his youthful side with a wonderful, light-hearted encore of South American music as a parting gift, which definitely got the audience (and the brass section) dancing!

A wonderful concert full of energy which I enjoyed greatly.

Catherine Cheung, age 16

Catherine went to the BBC Proms on August 13th 2008 where the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra played: La Valse, Ravel, Clarinet Concerto, Anders Hillborg and Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz.

Martin Fröst - clarinet Gustavo Dudamel - conductor.