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Classical Music Highlights of 2018

Charlotte Perkins, Bristol’s avid classical music reviewer, looks back on the highlights of the 2018 classical season.

One of the things I treasure most about Bristol’s classical music scene is its diversity. This is a city where classical music can be anything from the London Symphony Orchestra to the compositions breaking technical and electronic barriers – a city where music is gloriously spontaneous and where concert halls are filled with people of all walks of life. Bristol sees classical music the way I wish the world saw it: a medium brimming with opportunity, with emotional connection, and the ability to bring people together.

Alina Ibragimova performed Brahms Violin Concerto with London Symphony Orchestra at Colston Hall Wed 21 Feb 2018

With St George’s Bristol closed in the early months of 2018, and Colston Hall starting its renovation during the summer, you would think that it had been a quiet year for the classical listener: thankfully, the opposite was true. Still reeling from the long winter days and dreaming of the Christmas just gone, the London Symphony Orchestra’s concert in February with soloist Alina Ibragimova at Colston Hall was a cocoon of warmth. The LSO are one of my favourite ensembles – essentially, because they transcend mere technical brilliance in their search for truly exquisite moments of music. It was bliss to hear one of the 20th century’s most emotional compositions brought to life in Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 – the sweeping beauty of the piece overtaken in its final moments by a desperate urgency that finally, unthinkably, ended in a clash of flames.

Concerts at St George’s Bristol continued in their auditorium through the spring and summer while they undertook renovation work which was gloriously unveiled on 6 September. And I’ve been a frequent visitor to their beautiful new cafe bar since it’s opened.

One of the standout highlights during their summer season was Solomon’s Knot. Bach has to be one of my favourite composers and Solomon’s Knot’s performance of his momentous B Minor Mass on their 10th anniversary tour was a treasure to experience. The ensemble’s technical precision married gorgeously with their subtle interpretation of the score, their voices driving unrelentingly through that rich, dense world that Bach created so long ago.

By June the 2017/18 classical season was coming to a close: and so too was Colston Hall. Early June saw the Würth Philharmonic dazzle with a stunning rendition of Bruch’s Violin Concerto in the 1951 auditorium’s final classical concert – the highlight a blazing rendition of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, conducted by the same Maxim Vengerov who stunned with his immaculate control of the violin in the Bruch moments before.

If I have one ensemble to urge you to see it has to be the Chineke! Ensemble. Every time they return to St George’s Bristol they blow me away, and this year was no different. Their first Bristol concert in 2018 saw them storm through a programme of Britten, Beethoven and Daniel Kidane’s setting of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech – and while they excel at the modern composition, their playful portrayal of Beethoven 4 was unlike anything I have experienced before or since. Their return this autumn to St George’s stage saw them perform Strauss, Haydn and Joseph Boulogne with the same fervour – get your tickets for 2019 before it’s too late.

Need I mention Bristol New Music Festival and Bristol Keyboard Festival? Each one was an example of the diversity this city brings – and the talent that we have on show is astounding. From music breaking the barriers of audio perception, to the artists stripping back music to its very core with renditions of harpsichord music, we were treated to a truly fantastic year of music. I can’t wait for the next one – and I hope you’ll join me in celebrating everything this city has to offer.

A member of British Paraorchestra and Friends performs The Anatomy of the Orchestra in Colston Hall Foyer as part of Bristol New Music Festival