Mendelssohn: Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor
Beethoven: Symphony no. 7
Conductor: Jonathan Lo
Soloist: Christopher Jones
Leader: Julian Cann
In the cold December rain, music lovers gathered at the Great Hall to enjoy the first public performance by Lancaster’s own Haffner Orchestra since before the first lockdown. We were soon warmed by Mendelssohn’s Overture To A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written when the composer was but 17. Musical Director Jonathan Lo, conducting the Haffner for the last time, told how, distanced across the whole Great Hall floor, today shared with an audience of 400, the Orchestra had rehearsed the piece this summer following a series of Zoom collaborations. His heartfelt introductory words emphasised the true meaning of amateur, applied to the audience as at one with the musicians, those who do what they love and love what they are doing. Two flutes, apparently the hardest instruments to socially distance, beckoned us into the piece’s swelling theme and it was soon clear that here was a company playing with as much expertise as enthusiasm. Perfectly balanced orchestration and playing made this the ideal reintroduction to the communal listening experience.
Guest soloist Christopher Jones was faced with the challenge of a very exposed violin opening to the mature Mendelssohn’s Violin concerto in E minor which he rose to with verve and precision. He played a superb cadenza towards the end of the first movement, the orchestra exquisitely in support throughout.
Jonathan addressed us again after the interval. Particularly poignant, as he is moving on himself, was the tribute that he paid to Helen Price, who rose from the cello section to receive thanks for 21 years of publicizing the work of the Haffner. In introducing the final piece, Beethoven’s mighty 7th Symphony, Jonathan explained how Beethoven had been such a proponent of the communality of music, energy, dance, humanity. This encapsulated the whole atmosphere of the evening, fifty strong orchestra and audience united in the sharing of great, marvellously executed music. The Haffner has been Lancaster’s very own orchestra since the 1970s, many great local musicians then and now involved. A vital part of Lancaster’s cultural community which Jonathan Lo is leaving in fine form for his successor. At the end of his mid concert address Jonathan quoted his hero, Carl Sagan’s words so appropriate to the experience of the evening,
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is only bearable through love.” It was good to be back.