The concert as televised was visually beautiful and the social distanced orchestra intriguing, giving a rare opportunity to see individual players in the sections clearly. And they played all the right notes, as you’d expect from a fine orchestra under a top conductor. But I didn’t see the players smile much. At the end of a movement you usually see a bit of eye contact and facial communication between the musicians and with the conductor. There was none here.
Can you play normal music in an abnormal society? Well they did their best and the sound engineers in particular delivered sumptuous sound for the audience, all of us at home of course. But you sensed that the layout on the huge stage impaired the collectivity of the sections and of the orchestra as a whole. The musicians looked lonely. The horn section, always the most rumbustious in an orchestra, were separated and seemed almost to be stuck in a gallery!
As a concert regular all my adult life I know how important the relationship between musicians and with the audience is. As a patron of the RPO I feel I know the musicians personally from how they interact with one another. The first violins, for example, nearly always sit in the same seats and in pairs, sharing a music stand. There was, of course, none of that last night. Nor was there eye contact with each other, with the audience or with the conductor.
In short this was a performance by skilled individual musicians rather than a united band – it was almost as if they’d stayed at home and been brought together on Zoom. Precision there was and some individual moments of brilliance – the Cor Anglais and the Trumpet, for example. But there was no passion and, it seemed, not much enjoyment . It wasn’t any sort of ode to joy….