BBC Concert Orchestra entertains VPAC audience with intimate pieces

Jonathan Diaz

The music of the British Isles filled the Great Hall of the Valley Performing Arts Center on Thursday as the BBC Concert Orchestra on Thursday, Feb. 14.

The BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Keith Lockhart, played amazing pieces of classical music. The works of composers Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar and George Butterworth were featured as the orchestra played to a packed house.

The show opened with Britten’s powerful “Four Sea Interludes” from the opera “Peter Grimes.”

The sounds of the orchestra were dramatic and perfectly executed, especially the piece “Storm” which made great use of drums and cymbals to mark the approach of turbulent weather.

Elgar’s “Cello Concerto in E minor” brought a guest onto the stage, cello soloist Sophie Shao who moved with such grace and passion that the crowd was instantly mesmerized. Shao’s movements were subdued and not over-exaggerated, she hit every note with such charm and poise, it’s no wonder that she was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant at 19 years old. Remarkable is the only way to describe her solo.

As Shao moved her bow across the cello her beautiful fuschia dress provided a stark contrast to the black and white tuxedos and dresses worn by the rest of the orchestra.

Her solo went on for 30 minutes but the audience wanted her to stay longer as they gave her a standing ovation at the end of her set.

The orchestra supported her and performed in perfect unison. It was great seeing how connected this team of British musicians are.

The orchestra, which is made up of 60 members all from Britain, is smaller than a symphony orchestra, but their sound was no less brilliant.

Lockhart, who is also conductor of the Boston Pops, commanded the orchestra with much grace and excitement.

His hands moved steadily and softly as he conducted the next piece, Butterworth’s “The Banks of the Green Willow.” As the title implies it had a sound which was serene and pastoral.

The six minute long composition highlighted the woodwinds, in addition to the string section, which sounded marvelous.

After the song, Lockhart spoke about each piece and gave a brief bio on the composers.

This was the BBC Concert Orchestra’s only performance in L.A. County on their North American tour.

Then, Lockhart took to the podium at the VPAC one last time as the orchestra played their finale which was the second Elgar piece to be featured.

The aptly titled “Variations on and Original Theme (Enigma)” kept the audience on their toes.

Each of the 14 variations played is dedicated to someone the composer knew and each is different from the one preceding it.

The first part which is based on Elgar’s wife, had a sense of love and devotion as the horn section played a perfect complement to Butterworth’s piece.

Another variation was dedicated to friends who had a tendency to slam doors which sounded thrilling as the violinists played rapidly.

Other variations ranged from violent and temperamental to calm and soothing.

These were the longest pieces of the night, but the changes in music and structure kept it entertaining.

After two curtain calls Lockhart played a brief piece by William Walton called, “Touch Her Soft Lips and Part.” For many couples this romantic song was the perfect way to end a Valentine’s Day in the Valley.