EU Orchestra packs a punch with stars from the classical music world
7 Apr 2017
The compact, dynamic European Union Chamber Orchestra has played before the leaders of the world and in the most glittering and glamorous concert halls of Europe. Championed by their patron, Her Majesty the Queen – of Spain -- they’ve taken themselves around the globe to give concerts at the coronation of monarchs, the celebration of states (Canada’s 500th birthday? Can it be as old as that? Apparently John Cabot landed there that long ago), before Queen Noor of Jordan and for the birthdays of Princesses and births of Princes the world over. No mention of our own royal family as fans, but music is not really their thing, it’s well known.
What is strikingly British about this gorgeous and good looking group of minstrels -- orchestra leader, Dutch violinist Eva Tegeman was in a floor length gold lamé gown -- is the list of English names who feature as leading players among their number. And as they made their stylish way through the programme last night, there really could be no doubt about cooperation at the highest cultural level between our country and its European partners.
Had they brought their own lighting to the challenging gloom of the Cambridge Corn Exchange? Suddenly the old stage, with its long history of cereal haggling looked (if you squinted your eyes) like a proper set, suffused with a mysterious warm hue. Even the old seats, given to squeaking as if you’re part of the sound system whenever anyone shifts their position, stayed a bit quieter for this talented and impressive ensemble. They have after all played alongside the greats -- Nicola Benedetti, our own Alison Balsom and Julian Lloyd Webber: they have commissioned works from the world’s leading composers to perform and created a sensation in recording, taking the Radio 3's laurels for their productions.
Last night, they featured the British cellist Guy Johnston, a musician with strong Cambridge links – as a young chorister he sang the famous solo once in Royal David’s City in the King’s College Christmas concert. He has yomped through the musical world since then and there’s hardly an orchestra who hasn’t had him as a visiting soloist – not to mention his acclaimed broadcasts for the BBC proms. Little wonder. Guy Johnston is sensational. Playing the Haydn Cello Concerto he not only looked like a Hollywood heartthrob, but also somehow magically conjured such a profound meaning in the sound, to evoke a deeply moving response in the hearts of anyone who heard it. Over again, he touched the core of what music is about – a wordless expression of emotion. In between these intervals of heartbreaking intensity, he seemed at one with his fellow players, perfectly coordinating with their superb supporting strings. Here was music to sit up and listen to.
The evening concluded with the orchestra's version of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade. Still standing, no seated players here other than cello and bass, the European Union Chamber Orchestra soared through this evocative piece, with its glorious waltzes and moving string passages. Master of melody, Tchaikovsky can handle a lyrical tune more than any composer and many of these rapturous sequences sounded thrillingly familiar. Joy simply flowed from the mostly young, all elegant musicians as they soared into flights of romantic melancholy written by this tragic composer at the happiest time of his life, in Spring in the countryside, with his sister’s family around him.
Yet sadness for the audience did over arch last night’s show. For how long will we see a European cultural event as beautifully presented at this one? Will the harmony of music survive the ruptures of political events? What place will the many young orchestra members have in the new order following Britain’s departure from the EU? It did remind everyone that there is more to European Union than first appears.