The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra demonstrated power, skill and dedication to the beauty of art with a stunning concert comprising two world premières. Andrew Litton brandished his baton with fervour as he animatedly conducted the immensely talented Norwegian orchestra, joined by Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova, making her fourth Proms appearance of the season.

Alina Ibragimova with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Litton © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Alina Ibragimova with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Litton
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

An ethereal, suspenseful string melody in close harmony opened the concert in the world première of Ørjan Matre’s revised preSage, a work inspired by “The Sage” from Stravinky’s The Rite of Spring. The quirky brass and percussion sounds and rhythms generated throughout this performance made for a compelling and awakening experience. The orchestra moved seamlessly from high to low sonorities, ever rich and full with a piano that some musicians could only dream of achieving. Litton was clear and explicit in his conducting, time changes were immaculate, with total precision given throughout the entirety of this technically challenging work. 

The concert continued in a similar vein as Alina Ibragimova took to the stage for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. This enchanting violinist performed the opening melody with such light bowing, a magical sound was created. Ibragimova’s performance was of supreme quality, Litton watching her like a hawk throughout some rocket-like accelerandos, the Bergen Philharmonic ever-present despite the show stopping violin solo. The ensemble performed together well, Litton nurturing the score, conjuring picturesque melodies throughout. The most impressive features of this performance were Ibragimova’s dazzling cadenzas which displayed the overwhelming range of her technical and musical abilities. The virtuosic violinist, moved to tears by the audience’s cheers and stomps, and gave in to demands for an encore: Eugène Ysaÿe’s third sonata, commanding the stage. 

Time for one more world première with the orchestra’s home town in mind – Alissia Firsova’s Bergen’s Bonfire was played with particular affinity. The work, inspired by the composer’s Norwegian apocalyptic dream, portrays the stars, moon and sun, Norse Gods and battles across the mountainous landscape of Bergen. From the outset, this was set to be a dramatic work and the orchestra rose with pride to portray this mystical, mythical vision of their home. Amongst the apocalyptic jungle of resonances, there was a stunning ‘winter wonderland’ section created with woodwind, triangle and glockenspiel, which neatly reflected the beauty and magic of Norway, giving the audience a chance to relax and hold onto an imaginable experience for just a moment, before the next episode of the apocalypse began. Instruments were used stylishly throughout the work with percussion being employed as decoration rather than volume and reinforcement. This meandering dream is certainly one which I hope is reoccurring.

In Litton's hands, The Rite of Spring was spectacular. There is generally a sense of excitement generated upon the arrival of a troop of horns and a gang of percussionists and the audience was by no means disappointed. The instruments were each brought out of the mesh of interweaving melodies stylishly by Litton, who was completely at one with the music. The timps, constantly retuned, played their off-beat, syncopated role, leaving no room for error. Through Litton’s balletic conducting, the building of the ritual until the very end was executed to perfection. At the end of this performance, the audience was definitely up in arms, but for all the right reasons, leading to two encores.