It is rare to witness a concert that you anticipate beforehand will be a significant event. Watching 20-year old Ilyich Rivas conduct his first official performance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was just such an event, with the young conductor making a memorable impression. It was extraordinary to see someone so young lead a world-class orchestra with such confidence, control and enjoyment. Playing a programme of music by Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Shostakovich, Rivas and the LPO offered an evening full of impressive music-making.

Ilyich Rivas © Mark McNulty
Ilyich Rivas
© Mark McNulty

Dvořák’s Scherzo Capriccioso set off the evening with a bang. Rivas and the LPO were riveting, emphasizing changes in tempi which made for one of the most dynamic versions of the piece I have ever heard. The orchestra was steadily-paced throughout, and in the calmer sections the strings were beautifully lyrical, sweeping the orchestra along. Rivas’s staccato-like style of conducting suited the music perfectly, and his assertive approach made for an enthralling performance.

The Dvořák found its musical counterpart in Mahler’s Blumine, played as the first piece of the second half of the concert. It’s a much calmer piece, requiring a measured and dignified performance rather than the spirited performance we got in the Dvorak. But the LPO and Rivas were able to pull this off easily, the music flowed beautifully and calmly, with particularly impressive strings. Rivas' direction was understated, while retaining the piece’s serenity.

Before the interval, the orchestra was joined by Simon Trpčeski, for a performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1 in B flat minor. Throughout his performance you could often catch him smiling and moving in time to Rivas’s conducting. There were many things to love about the performance; it was rhythmically strong and the interaction between soloist and orchestra was impressive. However, Trpceski’s strength really lies in the quieter sections, with a lightness of touch that is almost mesmerizing, yet he never really let go and embraced the turbulence of much of Tchaikovsky’s score.

Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 1 in F minor is rarely performed. A student work, it was a fitting end to this evening of music as a celebration of youth and its potential. It’s fascinating to see Shostakovich’s musical signature already present in this first symphony, from the angular woodwinds to the general turbulence, from the beautiful melodies in the first violin to some wonderful parts for piano. Above all, the piece has the energy and atmosphere that so signify his symphonies; full of humour, doubt and with something always brooding underneath.

Rivas’s interpretation of the piece was a compelling one. He kept a high level of control over the orchestra, but still enabled them to break loose in the louder, more energetic sections. The second movement, a wonderful scherzo, found the woodwind section of the LPO taking the lead in a humorous and upbeat performance. The third movement is musically the weakest, lacking the bite the other movements have, but it was actually in this movement that the orchestra was most convincing and powerful. The string section played phenomenally, with an incredible sense of warmth and intensity. Under Rivas’ watchful eye, the orchestra slowly moved towards the climax in the fourth movement, offering an ear-shattering finale.

Throughout the concert there were a number of outstanding solo contributions. Oboist Ian Hardwick, flautist Katie Bedford and first cello Kristina Blaumane along with leader, Vesselin Gellev, performed beautifully, lifting this concert to another level. Add to this an orchestra on fire and a conductor with boundless energy and talent, and you have a golden combination.