One of my most cherished childhood memories is of playing with my dad’s old toy cars every time I visited my grandparents' house. Sending them hurtling down the corridor, the goal was to roll a car the full length without kissing the skirting board, which still bears the bright yellow scars of many a misunderstanding with a palm-sized Lamborghini Diablo. Those models could have been worth quite a bit now if they’d been kept ‘mint’ in their boxes, but luckily my dad had the sense to play with them. With the same childlike glee, Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra took Mozart’s Symphony no. 41 in C major out of its box and played with it across the Royal Albert Hall stage, from memory. That their performance could conjure such an autobiographical gem should tell you they’re able to speak to their audience; that they’re able to make classical music feel human again.

Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

As far as I know, to be a human is to go on a journey (cue inspirational music) and that it’s healthy to consider the journey to be the destination. Wolfgang Rihm’s Gejagte Form (Pursued Form) is a musical journey whose ‘form’ is the pursuit of a form. The hunt begins in the violins, before slowly infecting the rest of the ensemble – the hunted become the hunters – and for just one arresting moment the whole ensemble runs at the same pace; otherwise it’s a frenzied scrabble for musical purpose. Under Collon's decisive beat, this was a muscular show of strength for the Aurora Orchestra, thrown about in their chairs at the mercy of their own pursuit to communicate this visceral music to their audience. Rihm is resistant to meaning – you can’t search for it if you already have it! – but I couldn’t help compare this existential musical exploration to our own search for meaning, for balance, for ‘form’.

François Leleux © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
François Leleux
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou
It’s “a big message of hope,” said oboist François Leleux as he spoke on stage with Tom Service before playing Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto. Leleux was adamant that he was at the Proms, and humbled to be there, not merely to play it, but to share its warmth with the audience. Like a soft, nostalgic summer breeze, it isn’t a noticeably ostentatious concerto; I say not noticeably, because delivered from the lungs of a player like Leleux, you don’t notice its difficulty. He may look like a showman, offering his sound left and right – to the leader, to Collon and to the audience – but that’s just charisma. Leleux interacted with as many players as possible, once actually lunging towards the first violins in an effort to imbue them with his passion for a particular phrase. Collon was aptly invisible, but receptive to his spontaneous and generous music-making; Leleux made sure to thank all of his collaborators before receiving the applause himself.

At the concert’s close, the whole orchestra took a bow; such a rare occurrence, but it felt so right, because I’ve never seen an orchestra take so much ownership over a performance. To play a symphony from memory, as the Aurora has done for the last two Proms seasons, requires considerable rehearsal and individual preparation. But with this symphony under their skin, it was theirs to share with the audience, free from the constraints of chairs (save the lower strings), music stands, and music: there was plenty of space to start playing with the toy cars! Before the performance, presenter Tom Service got to take them for a spin, performing a little musical-open-heart surgery, to reveal the inner-workings of the symphony’s contrapuntal finale. As the musicians and audience sang its prayerful main theme as one, Service reminded us that the music had become our own.

By calling this music ‘classical’, we’re acknowledging a distance from it, which explains why conductors are often described as conjurors. We must never forget that this symphony was made by a living, breathing man, who went to the loo, and got drunk! The Aurora Orchestra, Collon and Service brought the “Jupiter” back down to earth, reclaiming it for our consumption; taking it out of its ‘classical’ box. The pay-off for their hard-won investments in communication was an unimpeded connection between musicians and viewers; the Royal Albert Hall actually felt like a circle for once.

If the Rihm was a picture of the human experience, and the Strauss a comforting antidote, the Aurora Orchestra’s Mozart reminded us that classical music is still made by us, for us.