Sunday nights can be rather bleak in Norwich, and with Storm Ciara blowing a hoolie venturing out seemed a bit of a challenge. But along with the rest of the busy Theatre Royal audience I am glad I did brave the weather to enjoy a scintillating concert from this large orchestra from Iceland. Norwich is their second stop on a busy UK tour.

The stage was filled with musicians including some of the most fascinating names in the business – my favourite is Nimrod Ron on tuba.  Under Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier the orchestra gave us a varied and rewarding programme.

First was a selection from Georges Bizet’s work L’Arlesienne Suites a popular and lively start to the evening. Conductor Tortelier looks like a dignified white-haired gentleman, but when the music starts he comes alive with precise and energetic gestures, but no baton.

A curiosity followed in the form of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, performed with great style (and just one hand) by the exuberant Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. This work starts with deep bass notes from the orchestra setting the scene for the piano to follow this dramatic mood. This 1932 Vienna-premiered piece is new to me but gave the orchestra a chance to show their skills as they gave the complex context to the sparkling soloist. I shall seek out this work to enjoy again, it gives the pianist a chance to show off their style and talent while making the most of the power of an 80 strong orchestra.

After the interval we were treated to a relatively new work by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir entitled ‘Aeriality for orchestra’. This work was commissioned by this orchestra in 2011 and is a complex and multi-layered work that has a very atmospheric feel to it that reminds me of German electronic music amongst other things. It gave a welcome contrast to the other more familiar works on the programme. It suggests that Iceland is a country where culture thrives and is well supported. This orchestra is featured in public broadcasts on a weekly basis and they have a distinctive home concert hall in Reykjavik.

The final programmed piece was a suite from Prokofiev’s Ballet Romeo and Juliet, Opus 64, compiled by the conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier. He cast aside his music stand for this work and is clearly passionate about this composer and his stirring melodies. A rousing finish to a great concert.

This was a memorable evening of well performed music and I am sure anyone who was there will make sure not to miss their next visit to Norwich.

It is great to see the Theatre Royal staging these concerts, but the demographic of the audience suggests that musical education is in a poor state in Norfolk today, with very few young people in the audience. It would be great to see a few more seats filled with perhaps groups from local schools so that a new generation could appreciate the sound and spectacle of a fine large orchestra in their local theatre. Having a young person nearby would be handy too for help reading the densely packed programme notes brochure. Much of it is printed in small white print on a black background, which is particularly difficult for older eyes to read.

There are more Theatre Royal concerts to look forward to, including the Tenebrae Choir and Aurora Orchestra on 7th April and the wonderful Welsh National Opera are back at the end of April with Mozart’s Figaro. Book now for these at or on 01603 630000

© Julian Swainson 2020