15 August 2013

Orchestra of St John – Musicfest 2013

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.