Our region is well-blessed with amateur orchestras, several of them playing
to professional standards, and among the most recent is the Orchestra of St
John, launched in Bromsgrove less than two years ago and already building
a huge following. And loyalty from its players, too.
Several faces are familiar from the big boys (Birmingham Philharmonic and
Chandos Symphony), but this is surely a tribute to the enthusiasm of
musicians who are so keen to perform - and the catalyst here at OSJ is the
desire to respond to the musicianship of conductor Richard Jenkinson.
As front-desk cellist in the CBSO, Jenkinson has observed some of the
world’s greatest conductors from the closest of quarters, but his conducting
technique is all his own. The great Finnish conducting teacher Jorma
Panula (Oramo and Salonen among his pupils) would surely approve, his
tenet being "find your own way". And Jenkinson's way is to crouch, leap,
sway and swoon; a distraction perhaps to the audience, but all the work has
been done in rehearsal, which his players adore.
Sunday's programme, the climax of a weekend festival, programmed three
orchestral biggies, beginning with Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. This
was a Germanically dark interpretation, conveyed by rich, well-defined
strings, sonorous, well-rounded brass (how good to have experienced
blowers to temper any noisy wannabes), and well-balanced woodwind
Mozart's wonderful Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola was
remarkable for the alert listening of the orchestra as it accompanied the
soloists (Paul Barritt and Louise Williams) through this tremendous score.
Jenkinson's opening movement stressed the majesty rather than the feathery
etherealness, but throughout the work musicality flowed through and
The soloists were well-blended and efficient, Barritt delivering a sweet tone,
Williams spectacularly mellow on her 400-year-old viola.
Then came the test for any orchestra, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
Jenkinson hurled the opening into the cosmos (one way of doing it), but
there were subsequent imprecisions of ensemble, and indeed a few false
There were probably more at the premiere in 1808. What cannot be denied
was the passion from all concerned in this performance, and whatever its
faults, it brought this masterpiece alive again to at least one old listener.