A crash, bang, wallop of a performance

Harpists Ruby Aspinall, left, and Kate Ham
Harpists Ruby Aspinall, left, and Kate Ham
Mutiny Festival 2017. Picture: Paul Windsor

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‘If at first you don’t succeed, give it the elbow.’

That’s definitely not what they say at Havant Symphony Orchestra (HSO).

And their first performance of Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite this month at Oaklands School, Waterlooville, proves it.

In 1998, when Helen Gutteridge took over as librarian the conductor’s score and individual instruments’ parts were already lying in the orchestra’s stockpile of music.

But it’s a big work demanding a seriously large orchestra with special instruments.

The enormity of mustering these players was a daunting task. Some had to be hired.

For an amateur orchestra this was too costly.

The music had been hired out to other ensembles but the HSO had never ever played Holst’s masterpiece.

And so it was until two ‘cellists, Barbara Martin and Tony Gutteridge, assembled 49 string players and two harps.

Together with the piano that meant more than 300 strings had to be perfectly in tune.

There were also 19 woodwind, 15 brass, two sets of timpani and seven percussion instruments which had to be in complete accord.

There was a celesta, which is like a tinkling keyboard, and a quirky flexatone sounding like a musical saw.

Twenty four vocalists from the Portsmouth Choral Union, plus their singing coach, made up the complete ensemble.

There were two conductors, ace baton-waver Jonathan Butcher and up-and-coming bursary holder Tom Griffin from the Royal Marines Band Service.

More than 120 able performers were involved.

The Planets performance lasted for 50 wonderful minutes.

Mars, the Bringer of War, was thunderous. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, did just that with marvellous tunefulness.

Other movements included celestial harps, the heavenly celesta, flighty flute passages and spooky voices fading into infinity closing the whole space odyssey. The audience, in the well-filled auditorium, loved every note.

The first half of the performance was brilliant too. Khachaturian is better known for his Sabre Dance and the Adagio from Spartacus which became the theme tune for The Onedin Line.

But his concerto is a forceful, Soviet military piece from 1936.

Composer, conductor and pianist, Peter Foggitt, whose works have been performed by Dame Shirley Bassey played it with breath-taking aplomb.

The concert’s opening number was Brigg Fair by Frederick Delius, a gentle introduction to the crash, bang, wallop, yet to come.

For more about the orchestra’s upcoming shows go to havantorchestras.org.uk.