The DC Metro area is blessed with a plethora of very good orchestras and symphonies, all very close by, and all worthwhile. Yet hearing the BBC Concert Orchestra, under the direction of Keith Lockhart, with piano soloist Charlie Albright, is a special treat and not to be missed. The lucky people in the audience at the George Mason Center for the Arts tonight, Friday April 24, 2015, can certainly testify to that, as they watched and heard the orchestra and Lockhart bring a little of their signature pizzazz to Virginia.
The BBC Concert Orchestra, currently under the baton of Maestro Keith Lockhart, has been the house orchestra for BBC Radio 2’s “Friday Night Is Music Night” since 1952. They participate in regular broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, as well as performing on various BBC television soundtracks. Keith Lockhart was appointed the Principal Conductor in August 2010, and since then has conducted the orchestra on three tours to the United States, as well as during Queen Elizabeth II’s gala Diamond Jubilee Concert. He also continues to serve as Conductor of the Boston Pops. Charlie Albright, named by The Washington Post as one of the “most gifted musicians of his generation,” has won multiple piano awards and prizes. His playing exhibits a “jaw-dropping technique and virtuosity meshed with a distinctive musicality”, according to The New York Times.
With so many accolades and such high reputations of the performers, the I walked in with high expectations, and my expectations were met and exceeded, as the orchestra and Albright proceeded to demonstrate how much they deserve all their honors and awards.
The program opened with Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin. From the beginning, the control and technical discipline of the orchestra was apparent, such as in the intricate opening notes of the oboe solo. Yet as the music continued under Lockhart’s careful baton, the emotion and passion the orchestra brings to their music was brought to the forefront, especially in the exuberant final movement.
The following piece was Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major with Charlie Albright as the piano soloist. Lockhart’s enthusiasm for the music was more than matched by Albright’s intensity and animation. He moved and danced all over the keyboard, yet was surprisingly delicate in his handling of the more intimate parts of the Concerto. His technical prowess was more than evident in the elaborate cadenzas and convoluted sequences of notes, as they never became muddied or rushed but were crystal clear. It was a treat to watch and listen, an attitude shared by the entire audience as evidenced by the standing ovation this piece received.
So much so, that Albright was brought back to perform an encore: the audience picked four musical notes and he improvised a piece using those four notes as a base. To hear the initial sequence of four notes and then what an elaborate, beautiful piece Albright turned those simple notes into was thrilling—we had heard what he could do with a piece by someone else, but to listen to his own improvisation, and the emotion he poured into this simple piece – really showed his skill and passion for the piano and for music. He received a well-deserved second standing ovation.
The second half of the program showcased various British composers: William Walton’s March Crown Imperial,’ “Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1, E minor”, and Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell), Op. 34”, with Edward Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour” and “Wild Bears” as encores.
These specific pieces provided opportunities not only to highlight British composers, but displayed the excellence of each section of the orchestra. With such precision in their playing, and sensitivity to the emotion and mood of each piece, the solos and section highlights, in conjunction with the solid skill of the orchestra as a whole, kept the audience engaged and even moved by their playing.
While this was the 12th of 14 stops on the orchestra’s US tour, and their only stop in the DC Metro area, it is their third tour in North America. One can only hope they will do another North American tour soon—don’t miss it!
Running time: 2 hours,including a 20-minute intermission.
The BBC Concert Orchestra played its only performance on Friday, April 24, 2015 at the GMU Center for the Arts – 4400 University Drive, in Fairfax, VA. For more information and to purchase tickets for future events, call 1-(888) 945-2468, or visit their website.