Nearing the end of their grueling nine-city US tour, the Bamberger Symphoniker arrived in Los Angeles during a biblical downpour and bravely played a refreshingly mainstream program at a half-empty UCLA's Royce Hall with a brave but probably unavoidably soggy version of their renowned Old World warmth. The Bamberg sound remains particularly noticeable in the unanimity and broad, rich beauty of the strings and the sublimely eloquent woodwinds, and the musical authority that lies in the roots of its history. Watching the Symphoniker in action was a thrilling sight, virtually every member leaning both literally and figuratively into their instruments–the double basses a particularly impressive sight–to make the music speak.

Ray Chen, Christoph Eschenbach and the Bamberg Symphony © Reed Hutchinson
Ray Chen, Christoph Eschenbach and the Bamberg Symphony
© Reed Hutchinson

Helping them to celebrate their 70th birthday, Christoph Eschenbach, the orchestra's Honorary Conductor, presided over a conventional but stirring Eroica, and Ray Chen, standing bold and proud, with teenage fans squealing now and then, really leaned into Bruch's Violin Concerto in G minor with such a combination of absolute technical mastery, confident stride and searing poetry, with Eschenbach presiding over an orchestral part that has little to do aside from being darkly dramatic, made us remember that the familiar strains was written to grab us, not put us to sleep. Persuaded after multiple curtain calls to play an encore, Chen obliged with a light, adorable 'Gavotte en Rondeau' from Bach's E major Partita, sugared with some engaging rhetorical pauses.

Ironically, after the majestically low-energy Eroica, the encore – Beethoven's overture to The Creatures of Prometheus – seemed like a gift from the gods. It was not swift and seamlessly integrated the way some Top 10 industrial orchestras do, but as the various sections and became involved, they sent the small audience out into the rain with warmth in their hearts. At the other end, Mozart's overture to Don Giovanni with the cringeworthy concert ending, deserved at least one Tovey's 'bleeding chunks of Wagner' star.

Christoph Eschenbach and the Bamberg Symphony © Reed Hutchinson
Christoph Eschenbach and the Bamberg Symphony
© Reed Hutchinson

While Chen was magnificent, and Eschenbach his usual charismatic presence on the podium, the Symphoniker really cried out for their new music director, Jakub Hrůša. The Bamberg Symphoniker is not new to the US, but Hrůša is their future and something special. He joined them last season, their fifth Chief Conductor in a distinguished line-up that began with Joseph Keilberth, James Loughran and Horst Stein. (After Keilberth, Istvan Kertesz had been appointed Chief Conductor, but died tragically before he could take up the post.)

His immediate predecessor, Jonathan Nott, recorded internationally-acclaimed, game-changing Schubert and Mahler cycles for the Swiss Tudor label which put the Symphony back on the world stage. He wasn't able to change his schedule in able to lead this tour, but he will be when they return. In the meantime, Tudor has released his first Bamberg recording, Smetana's Má vlast

As an additional indicator of the chemistry between the Symphoniker and Bamberg, the orchestra's media partner TV Oberfranken sent a film crew, while journalists Manuel Brug and Marco Frei filed red carpet and behind the scenes reports and live broadcasts from each of the exotic American metropolises the orchestra visited: New York, Miami, New Brunswick, Daytona, West Palm Beach, Vero Beach, San Diego and Palm Springs. These were all, the orchestra's Intendant Marcus Rudolph Axt explained to me before the concert, part of the Orchestra's responsibility to stay in touch when it's away from its home-town Bamberg community, where knowledge about and interest in the Symphony runs high. In other words, a dream come true.