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Stanford Philharmonia: A ‘Powerful’ Festival Presence

We have been starved for live, let alone orchestral, music for two years so it was no surprise that the Earl Cameron Theatre was packed with patrons eager to experience the Stanford Philharmonia under the baton of music director and conductor Paul Phillips.

Bermuda student musicians played with the Philharmonia for the opening, effectively creating a 60-plus-strong string orchestra with a powerful presence and a rich sound.

First was the deeply moving orchestral piece, Adoration, by the African-American composer Florence Price which subtly blended churchlike sonorities with hints of bolder, more modern chord changes.

The opening concluded with movements 3 and 4 from Holst’s St Paul’s Suite written, as Phillips explained, for the composer’s students at St Paul’s Girls School in London, England. The musicians tackled these movements with great energy, particularly the final Dargason, which is a brilliant blend of a triple-time country dance overlaid with the melody of Greensleeves. Congratulations to our students for taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

The main programme featuring the full Philharmonia Orchestra somehow bore reference to sad current events. Poignantly, in his introduction, Phillips explained that his forebears came from the Ukraine. Dvorak’s 1879 Czech Suite, Op 39 was aptly resonant. It seemed to reflect the composer’s thoughts and hopes on the musical culture of a nascent nation, destined to be realised some 40 years later, then promptly destroyed by Western appeasers and a Nazi dictator.

Go Perfect into Peace followed, a child’s poem scored by Phillips which, in its quiet transcendence and utter sincerity, is a perfect prayer for peace. Symphonie Concertante in G Major, by the French composer Chevalier de Saint-Georges (he was born to a slave mother in Guadeloupe) featured student violinists Roger Xia and Richard Cheung (from the class of 2024). They made their dialogue with the orchestra and each other virtuosic and mesmerising. Phillips’ conducting was intensely physical and he welded all his players together into a perfect team while maintaining close awareness of each individual player.

The programme ended with a riveting performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 in A Major, Op 92. Phillips’ energy and rapport with his orchestra dramatically conveyed the accelerating and mercurial nature of this technically demanding symphony. The triumphant finale brought us all to our feet.

 

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