Oliver Whiskard witnesses the brilliant musicianship of our very own students
It was a cold winter’s night, and as assorted black coats ambled into the glowing hall of St Pancras Church, away from the blare of Euston Road, I thought that nothing could provide a better remedy to dreary weather than festivity. Unfortunately, the UCLU Music Society Christmas Concert was somewhat lacking in tinsel and holly, but it adequately made up for this by letting the music of Tchaikovsky (Symphony No. 6) and Bruckner (Te Deum) speak for themselves. I confess, I am not much of an expert on classical music, and I haven’t seen anything from UCLU Music Society before, so inevitably I had many pre-conceptions about how good the quality of the performance might be. Many awkward thoughts pass through the mind of the uninitiated: a student orchestra? Isn’t music on this grand scale a little ambitious? Complete nonsense of course. Charles Peebles, the inexhaustibly enthusiastic conductor tuned this orchestra to such a fine pitch of professionalism that it didn’t matter whether I was sat in the church or in the Royal Albert Hall; to my untrained ears both performances would have been just as good.
In fact, as I have noticed on many occasions, the acoustics in the Albert Hall make the music sound like it is being squished into a small box (apparently the dome shape is not conducive to high quality sound). Yet the echoing halls of the church are far more ideal. The high trills of the strings and the powerful brass scaled the heights of the church walls, and were aloud to billow and settle like thick clouds of rich sound. Peebles made large arcing movements with his arms, as if trying to catch and contain the huge outflow of noise from this clearly incredibly skilled orchestra. However, there is one disadvantage to church acoustics, and this is that sometimes the finer points of the instruments and the interpretation can be lost amid excessive reverberations.
Bruckner’s Te Deum, with the addition of the choir and soloists, was an absolute treat. A special mention should be given to the soprano whose voice projected immaculately into the hall, something I felt the other soloists slightly lacked; their voices didn’t stand out as much as they could have. I cannot say my taste is particularly refined, but the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s symphony was the highlight for me. I have never been a fan of overly bombastic affairs (which at times I felt was the case) but this final movement had a lyricism and quiet power which moved me more than a hundred trumpets could.
The great revelation of the evening was just how much great musicianship we have at UCL. I usually pay a lot more money to go to various performances around London, but when the quality is this high at UCL, I don’t have much of a reason to do that anymore. Although I left feeling no more Christmassy than when I came, I was thoroughly warmed by the stunning music and the atmosphere; indeed, it was the perfect remedy to a cold winter night.
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Featured Image Credit: Georgina Appleton