Commentators inside and outside classical music are debating whether London needs five symphony orchestras. All of the city’s publicly funded arts institutions face a nervous wait to find out if their grants are slashed entirely or just partially. Against this backdrop of uncertainty, it seems an awkward time to be launching a new chamber orchestra, something the young founder of the Arensky Chamber Orchestra, Will Kunhardt, humorously acknowledged in a short speech at this concert.
The orchestra was at Cadogan Hall to perform the first concert of its inaugural season at the venue. Formed by young conductor Kunhardt (although he didn’t perform in this concert) and made up of young professionals, the band’s mission statement is to mix up the concert experience. This includes performing in non-traditional venues, presenting music more informally and bringing media into the concert experience. Great stuff no doubt, but nothing here not tried by plenty of others. Is it enough to wrestle audiences away from the plethora of professional chamber orchestras in the capital, not to mention the numerous excellent amateur ensembles?
At least at the outset, the answer would seem to be yes. The auditorium was impressively full for a programme that had all the hallmarks of the Britten Sinfonia, the innovative Cambridge-based chamber orchestra that regularly performs at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Under the title From Venice to Buenos Aires: Eight Seasons, the Arensky CO, directed by the leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra Andrew Haveron, partnered Vivaldi’s timeless Four Seasons with Astor Piazzolla’s tango tribute.
Haveron is a stylish violinist with a bright, bold sound and a formidable technique. With the orchestra to direct and lot of notes to cover, it was a busy night for him. Each Vivaldi concerto was paired with the corresponding Piazzolla season (but inverted to reflect the different seasons in the southern hemisphere). Although a sensible way to present the programme – the seasonal colour changes that backlit the stage was a nice touch – it didn’t quite work here. The baroque and modern music sounded too sonically similar. Vivaldi played on modern instruments seems increasingly old fashioned and anachronistic. Haveron played in a historically informed manner, but the orchestra’s contribution was heavy handed. All four seasons lacked the mystique that period bands like La Serenissima bring to this music.
In contrast, each of Piazzolla’s wonderfully atmospheric pieces benefited from the passion and full-fat sound of the Arensky’s playing, with some solid solo contributions from within the orchestra too. The ensemble playing was tight, the music swung, and Haveron’s creamy high-register fiddling was suitably showy. A cheering Cadogan Hall loved it and demanded an encore, a sure sign of a successful first night. Can it be sustained? Let’s hope so: this is a fine bunch of musicians with some interesting ideas behind them.
Find out more about the Arensky Chamber Orchestra.