Horsham Symphony Orchestra Reviews

Magnificent Mahler!

Review by Charlotte Ellis

10 November 2019

The Hawth, Crawley

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”

Horsham Symphony Orchestra & Horsham Symphony Chorus

Popular, local amateur ensemble, Horsham Symphony Orchestra, took to The Hawth, Crawley for their latest concert on Sunday 10th November. The change from their usual performance venue – the Capitol in Horsham – allowed for the extensive forces required for their performance of Gustav Mahler’s enormous 2nd Symphony. They were joined by Horsham Symphony Chorus, a group of nearly one hundred singers, assembled for the occasion by Jo Browse and directed by Peter Allwood. The combined group of musicians made for an impressive sight, filling The Hawth’s sizeable stage.

The orchestra’s conductor, Steve Dummer, led the amassed performers with enormous energy, vigor and skill, surviving the loss of his baton to an overly enthusiastic flourish in the 2nd movement and impressively conducting the rest of the piece ‘free hand!’ The 2nd Symphony, also known as the “Resurrection” Symphony, was an appropriate choice for Remembrance Sunday, its intense and wide-ranging emotions and musical colours culminating in heartbreakingly beautiful pathos.

The orchestra, led by violinist Rachel Ellis, conveyed this challenging mix of light and shade admirably, ranging from impressive moments of powerful, full textured cacophony to exposed, shimmering melodic passages from one section or one instrument. Mezzo-soprano soloist, Angharad Lyddon, finalist in the Song Prize at this year’s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, provided one of the most stunning, solo moments of the concert at the opening of the fourth movement. She was joined by soprano soloist, Paula Sides, whose voice soared impressively above the chorus in the fifth movement.

The event was a testament to the scope and ambition of local music making, providing a skilled and moving rendition of an extremely challenging yet exceptionally beautiful piece of music.

Folkish flavours in a fantastic summer concert for Horsham Symphony Orchestra

Review by Kirsten Parry

29 June 2019

The Capitol, Horsham

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis

Adriano Adewale: Percussion Concerto (world premiere, featuring Adriano Adewale)

Grainger: Lincolnshire Posy

Bartók: Dance Suite

A beautifully crafted programme caused much excitement amongst audience members before they even walked through the doors of Horsham’s (thankfully, air-conditioned!) Capitol Theatre in the balmy evening of the hottest day of the year so far. With an air of something feeling a little different about the repertoire, orchestra and audience members alike anticipated a wonderful evening of interesting and varied music, introduced and conducted by Steve Dummer.

It was captivating to hear Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), a church hymn infused with folk played beautifully by HSO’s string musicians. The modal harmony, haunting themes and antiphonal textures took us on a journey into the unknown – regardless of our existing familiarity with the piece. The textural contrasts were incredibly effective, with two string orchestras; one large and one small, and a string quartet whose solos were breathtaking. This was an amazing union of talented string musicians who were able to fill the theatre with the sound of Vaughan Williams’ soaring – yet shimmering – melodies.

Next, we were treated to the timbral contrast of the wind, brass and percussion sections in Grainger’s thrilling Lincolnshire Posy (1937). This set of six short pieces, one of which was collected in Horsham itself, contains characteristic folk elements such as rapid harmonic changes, motivic development, modal and pentatonic scale subsets and cross-rhythms. The Lincolnshire Posy was performed with great energy and character; an invigorating work by a composer who was instrumental in the British folk music revival in the early 20th century. This was an exciting end to the first half of a varied and vibrant concert.

After the interval, we heard the much-anticipated world premiere of Adriano Adewale’s Percussion Concerto. His rapport with Steve and the orchestra was evident as he was rapturously welcomed on stage to perform in the spotlight of his own, beautifully introduced, work. As Adewale indicated to the audience before the performance, music is ‘a powerful weapon of togetherness’ and he clearly conveyed this through his integration of unexpected instrumentation and musical styles. The audience was engaged throughout with an astonishing array of Brazilian and Angolan percussion instruments in use, and Adewale’s stage presence brought the performance – and the orchestra – alive. I hugely enjoyed the minimalist inflections in this concerto, with a focus on rhythm and timbre over melody and harmony; this was a refreshing approach by Adewale, who suggests that ‘a world where playing less might have a greater effect than playing more’. It’s safe to say that this concerto was a great joy to watch and listen to and we’re all excited to see what Adewale does next with his virtuosic and compositional talent.

The final step on our musical journey of folk brought us Bartok’s Dance Suite, which was a dramatic and momentous five-movement composition. The urgent but constantly changing atmosphere was beautifully crafted by Dummer and conveyed by each and every musician, reflecting the turbulent life events that Bartok was experiencing when he wrote the work. The orchestra maintained an infectious enthusiasm right up until the final flourish; a dramatic and unexpected ending for a unique, folk-filled and thoroughly enjoyable programme. Yet another wonderful evening thanks to HSO – the countdown is now on for Mahler in November!

Professionalism Shines Through

Review by John Sherlock

31 March 2019

The Capitol, Horsham

Conductor: Steve Dummer Leader: Rachel Ellis

Verdi: Overture to La Forza del Destino

Tubin: Double Bass Concerto (Soloist: Will Duerden)

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 Op. 36

When a local orchestra assembles on stage you can tell a lot about the music you’re about to hear. The Horsham Symphony Orchestra players exude professionalism, and as the brass fanfare announced the beginning of Verdi’s Overture to La Forza del Destino we knew that, even though it was the orchestra’s second concert this term, we were in for an evening of well-played music. That haunting woodwind melody will be with us for a long time!

Professionalism was also the hallmark of Will Duerden’s performance of the Tubin Double Bass concerto. A work unfamiliar to many, it’s hard not to fall in love with this piece with its jaunty tunes and delightful writing for the clarinets, the bass clarinet getting a rare starring role. Will (a former member of HSO, a BBC Young Musician finalist and already a world-class instrumentalist) transfixed us with his virtuosity and musicality, and the orchestra accompanied him rhythmically and skilfully.

After the interval, we were once again fanfared into Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. This piece was certainly going to weed out the nervous – there are so many tricky notes and tempo changes. But once again professionalism shone through and HSO gave us an edge-of-the-seat performance of this massive work.

When it was all over, one audience member said “who needs to go to London to hear great music?” Who indeed, with such talent on our doorstep?

Hearing the Pictures

Review by Vivien Willatt

3 February 2019

The Capitol, Horsham

Film Concert

Always keen to explore new territory, Horsham Symphony Orchestra’s recent teatime concert certainly lived up to its billing as a “Film Music Spectacular”. Hosted by the knowledgeable composer /performer Neil Brand, the all age capacity audience was treated to an innovative programme that included some well known film music, and a simultaneous performance accompanying a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s 1917 film, Easy Street.

The entertainment began with the ‘Belles of St Trinian’s Comedy Suite’ by Malcolm Arnold (arr. Palmer); a sparkling set of musical vignettes capturing the irrepressible essence of the St Trinian’s ‘hellyons’. Several members of the orchestra dressed up in tribute, to add to the fun. Neil Brand became one half of the accomplished piano duet, in a performance that showcased HSO’s talented young percussionists.

A change of mood transported us into Ron Goodwin’s Suite ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines’. Neil Brand encouraged us to “hear the pictures” - the different nationalities of the pilots, the sensation of being airborne - all drawn out of the orchestra so effectively by conductor Steve Dummer, that it had the musical precision of an aerobatic display.

Klaus Badelt’s ‘Curse of the Black Pearl Medley’ (arr. Ricketts), from the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, brought the first half to a suitably dramatic close. A fast paced piece, driving string rhythms opened out into the well known theme, and an expertly played trumpet solo. Tight percussion heightened the tension, sweeping the piece to its powerful conclusion and well-deserved rapturous applause.

The second half was a real coup for HSO, as they played Neil Brand’s score to accompany the special screening of Charlie Chaplin’s film, Easy Street. This was not an easy undertaking, but Steve Dummer displayed his extraordinary musical direction skills yet again, as he seamlessly synched the orchestral playing to the film action, with impeccable timing and great sensitivity. Neil Brand’s score was in turns comedic, tender, dramatic – in perfect keeping with both the story and Chaplin’s character. HSO did this score great justice, as evidenced by the tremendous outpouring of applause at the end. We are so fortunate to have this calibre of musicianship and musical collaboration here in Horsham, and I for one, cannot wait to see what they will do next.

Breath-taking Performance by Horsham Symphony Orchestra

Review by Kirsten Parry

Saturday 24th November 2018

The Capitol, Horsham

Dawn Richards: Shetland Storm (world premiere)

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 5 (soloist: Julian Trevelyan)

Holst: The Planets

With every ticket sold nearly over a month in advance of the concert, there was tangible anticipation amongst the orchestra and audience alike before accomplished conductor Steve Dummer took to the stage to introduce the evening’s vibrant and varied programme.

Dawn Richards’ Shetland Storm, a world premiere performance, gently launched us into a journey of discovery that one so often experiences when hearing new music. The tense opening double bass line gave way to tentatively imitated arpeggios in the wind section before the shimmering strings contributed to a beautifully Ionian atmosphere. There were some gorgeous tutti build ups in this piece with a realm of motivic extension and beautifully layered textures. It was a fitting and refreshing start to the concert, and a really impressive first contemporary classical work for orchestra from Dawn Richards.

Next, we were treated to an impressive and inconceivably technical performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.5 in G minor where Julian Trevelyan absolutely floored the audience with his virtuoso skill. All five movements of this energetic work exploited the entire range of the piano, with exciting antiphonal interplay from and between the orchestral sections. Whilst the first, third and fifth movements felt jovial and at times frantic, the second lay in contrast with a marching beat punctuated by the percussion section and the fourth brought a completely different mood with some beautiful, pensive simplicity and a real sense of being on an emotive yet somewhat playful journey. Julian, at some points playing so fast that his hands became a visible blur, demonstrated outstanding talent – especially for a musician so young. The excitement kept on coming as he treated us to a spontaneous encore, performing Poissons d’or by Debussy; this was warmly welcomed by the audience, who were unmistakably eager to hear more of Julian’s playing.

After the interval the atmosphere felt even more charged as we admired the complex stage set up for The Planets, the infamous orchestral suite by Gustav Holst. With two sets of timpani, two harps, the all-important Celeste and a beautifully ethereal-sounding off-stage choir, the orchestra was notably larger than usual, yet tutti passages were played as if the orchestra was one smooth melodic voice. The guidance and command of the orchestra by Steve Dummer deserves vast credit; he equipped these talented musicians to create a richly breath-taking and exciting performance. With the subtly powerful col legno opening played by the strings, Mars didn’t disappoint; followed by Venus where every musician simply shone, Mercury and its delicate and quirky bi-tonality and the much-awaited Jupiter whose principal hymnal theme swept through the theatre, stirring the already transfixed audience. It is a well-known fact that the orchestra reflects their conductor, and Steve’s buoyant direction coupled with the resultant, outstanding, sound from the orchestra was wonderful to witness. After Jupiter came doleful Saturn, which sighed into Uranus where the orchestra again provided a beautifully blended tone in the tutti sections. Skilfully performed harp harmonics highlighted these two movements, before distant and delicate Neptune rounded off an incredible second half of this exceptional programme. The growing silence as the choir died away was thick, tense and tangible; we waited with baited breath before Steve lay down his baton, the orchestra relaxed and the audience burst into applause. I can only offer my sincere thanks and greatest congratulations to HSO for such a varied and fantastic evening; it’s safe to say we’re all excited to see and hear what they do next.

Captivating pieces from a versatile orchestra

Review by Vivien Willatt

Saturday 30th June 2018

The Capitol Horsham

Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture “Fingal’s Cave” Op. 26

Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 47 (Soloist: Rachel Ellis)

Brahms: Symphony No.4 in E minor Op. 98

It was clear from the very first stroke of the baton that Horsham Symphony Orchestra meant business with their latest performance. Dedicated to long time supporter Peter Ring, and playing to a capacity audience, the concert launched us without preamble into the captivating atmospherics of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Fingal’s Cave. Under conductor Steve Dummer’s expert direction, the orchestra brought out every poetic nuance of the ebb and flow of this evocative tone poem. The lower strings and bassoons brought a beautiful richness to the opening theme, underpinning the lyrical solo clarinet melody – a very assured performance throughout.

Judging by her enthusiastic welcome to the stage, soloist Rachel Ellis’ performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor was perhaps the most eagerly awaited item on the programme. Widely regarded as one of the most technically demanding pieces in the violin repertoire, Rachel rose to the challenge with consummate professionalism. She displayed dazzling virtuosity in the acrobatic cadenzas of the 1st movement, moving to great emotional depths playing the achingly beautiful 2nd movement melodies. Following with the sheer exuberance and finger fireworks of the final movement, Rachel showed what an exceptionally talented performer she is. Throughout, the chemistry between soloist and orchestra was tangible – a memorable performance worthy of the tumultuous applause.

After the interval, following a touching tribute to Peter Ring, and a few tantalising hints about HSO’s future projects from Steve Dummer, we settled in for the 3rd major work of the evening – Symphony No.4 in E minor, by Brahms. The sweeping beginning of the 1st movement set the tone for a confident crisp performance, as the ever changing melodies moved seamlessly throughout each orchestral section, building to a majestic finish. The 2nd movement, the Andante, with its haunting woodwind opening over a shimmer of upper strings, featured beautifully lyrical melodies from the lower strings and horns. The Allegro Giocoso, (3rd movement), lived up to its name – playful melodies, with syncopated rhythms ably played by the young percussionists; leading into the grandeur of the final movement. Here HSO was in its element. From the solid brass introduction, followed by the sensitive accompaniment under the sublime flute solo, through to the exhilarating intensity of the final bars, Steve Dummer managed to draw out yet another outstanding performance from this versatile orchestra. One can only wonder what riches are to come!

Enthusiastic HSO tackles an ambitious programme

Review by Vivien Willatt

17 March 2018

The Capitol Horsham

Adams: The Chairman Dances

Haydn: Cello Concerto No.2 (Soloist: Kieran Carter)

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1

Steve Dummer (conductor), Rachel Ellis (leader)

There is something hugely exciting in waiting for a live performance to begin, and the atmosphere in the Capitol Theatre before Horsham Symphony Orchestra’s latest Concert was no exception. The programme was ambitious; but with obvious enthusiasm, conductor Steve Dummer gave an excellent introduction to the first piece – The Chairman Dances by John Adams. With a humorous mix of anecdotes and musical background, he promised that we were “in for a treat”, and the HSO certainly did not disappoint. From the insistent driving repetitions of the opening, to the lyrical soaring of the upper strings, playing Madam Mao’s sensuous dance melody, perfectly dissected with percussive cross rhythms, this skilfully executed piece created an almost cinematic soundscape of two distinct cultures butting against one another. The HSO’s young percussionists were outstanding throughout, but the way they created the dying sounds of the gramophone needle at the end of the piece was mesmeric. A memorable performance indeed.

In complete contrast, the second piece presented was Haydn’s Cello Concerto No.2. The orchestra warmly welcomed back one of its own in soloist Kieran Carter. Despite suffering heavily with flu, this talented young performer gave an extremely accomplished performance. There was beautiful interplay between the soloist and orchestra in the first movement, with sensitive underpinning by the strings. The energetic cadenza, with its tricky double stopping, had the audience gripped. The second movement – my personal favourite – allowed Kieran to demonstrate his more soulful side, particularly in the mellifluous caramel tones of the initial solo – tailing into an ethereal ending. The joyful third movement was a master class in acrobatic fingering; technically demanding, but very assured. Throughout, the orchestral accompaniment was well rounded and supportive. Kieran Carter is definitely a young musician with a future to watch.

After the interval, we were treated to Shostakovitch Symphony No.1. Shostakovitch has a reputation for being ‘difficult’ to listen to, but again Steve Dummer put us at ease with snippets of information to help us navigate the piece – describing it as a ‘wild piece, but great fun’. The first movement begins with a mischievous interplay between sections, punctuated by sublime solos, until an increasing intensity builds to an explosion of percussion. The second movement continues the musical cat and mouse game, developing an eerie melody in the woodwind. It opens up into an epic drama of percussion and brass, perhaps influenced by Shostakovitch’s early experiences accompanying silent films. The third movement changes character again; a haunting oboe melody, exquisitely played, developed by the cello, conveys a deep sense of yearning. Under Steve Dummer’s expert direction, the orchestra gave their all to the stirring discords and swelling refrains, until with a dramatic drum roll, the piece catapulted us into the dazzling rollercoaster of the fourth movement finale. This symphony is a complex intense work, and the HSO did it complete justice. The audience were spellbound, and the tumultuous applause at the end was entirely justified. How fortunate we are, to have such a wealth of musical talent on our doorstep!

HSO: Another class performance

Review by Bob Eagle

1 July 2017

The Capitol, Horsham

Nicolai: Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor

Adriano Adewale: Suite Dialogues (world premiere)

Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances Op. 45

This was another class performance from Horsham’s very talented symphony orchestra (leader Barry Sutton) to a near capacity audience at the Capitol. And it included a world premiere performance.

I personally like orchestral concerts to start with a short lively piece, so Nicolai’s Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor fitted the bill perfectly. The orchestra tackled the piece with panache. From the ethereal opening the orchestra moved nicely into the first main theme. The light passages which followed skipped along in the dance style they conveyed. There was a clear sense of excitement in the middle of the piece and a clever contrast in style between the light dance sections and the slower more ponderous parts. And of course the whole orchestra stepped up a gear at the climax. It was a splendid opening for what was to follow.

Suite Dialogues was a world premiere performance of a work by Adriano Adewale specially commissioned for the Horsham Symphony Orchestra as part of the Adopt a Composer partnership run by Making Music in partnership with Sound and Music, in association with BBC Radio 3, and funded by the PRS for Music Foundation and the Philip and Dorothy Green Trust. The performance was recorded for BBC Radio 3. I feel sorry for today’s composers. They have to avoid the pitfalls of simply writing in the style of what has already gone before or of being so avant garde that they command little general interest. Adriano Adewale has done an excellent job. The programme notes tell us that Suite Dialogues is a piece about communication and openness. It was fresh, fascinating and fun. And full marks to the orchestra - and especially the percussion section - for managing the complex rhythms so effectively. A relatively short piece which could perhaps be further developed. It certainly deserves to be featured in other orchestras' repertoire.

After the interval, the HSO performed Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Rachmaninov was the last of the great Romantic Russian composers with rich orchestrations, emotional melodies and dense harmonies.

In the first movement, which incidentally is marked ‘non allegro’ (not fast), the HSO captured the energetic martial opening theme with rhythmic vivacity. The strings added to the ghostly feel of the piece before the orchestra returned to the dramatic military theme with gusto.

The second movement is a waltz, opening with a brass fanfare, very well executed by the orchestra’s brass section. The orchestra nicely managed the transition between the lilting and sad melody which followed, with its increasing twists and turns - for which the woodwind section in particular are to be congratulated - into the altogether more sinister and punchy ending of the movement.

The third and final movement is the culmination of the piece. It began with an explosive statement of the Dies Irae (day of judgment) with great sound from the brass and timpani. The orchestra gave a very sympathetic treatment to the main part of this movement which is a musical setting of the theme of wrath and judgment. But just when it seems that death has won the day the orchestra moved up another gear to the final section (almost Lone Rangerish!) which represents the triumph of life over death.

Throughout, Steve Dummer the highly acclaimed conductor kept the orchestra under fine control; his easy style of communicating with the audience complimenting his style of conducting. As my conducting teacher used to say: "As you are, so shall the music be".

Overall, it was a most enjoyable evening warmly appreciated by the audience and providing further proof of the amazing musical skills in this very talented orchestra.

Almost like Duke Ellington

Review by John Sherlock

25 March 2017

The Capitol, Horsham

Conductor: Steve Dummer / Soloist: Mandhira de Saram / Leader: Barry Sutton

Berg : Violin Concerto

Brahms arr. Schoenberg: Piano Quartet in G minor Op. 25

On previous occasions HSO have captivated us with romantic music. They have also demonstrated how disciplined they can be. This time they showed us intellect.

The Berg Violin Concerto was always going to be risky – the auditorium wasn’t full and some folk just don’t ‘get’ serial music. It was nevertheless stunning.

Mandhira de Saram captivated everyone with a lyrical and accomplished performance. The orchestra responded sensitively: at the close there was magic in the air.

Steve Dummer turned tribulation to advantage. Having been struck with frozen shoulder, he made the decision to abandon the Webern arrangement of Schubert’s German Dances, and this gave him the opportunity to offer a comprehensive introduction to the Berg concerto, during which the orchestra demonstrated various themes and even sung the much-quoted Bach chorale. Steve’s most memorable phrase: “almost like Duke Ellington”.

The original programme had been cleverly assembled to feature work by the three chief advocates of the ‘Second Viennese School’ – Webern, Berg and Schoenberg. The second half of the concert was given over to the last of these titans: his orchestral arrangement of a Brahms quartet.

Purists might have wondered why Schoenberg bothered. Indeed (as the excellent programme notes told us) the orchestration was not altogether Brahms-like, except in the Andante. But it was a splendid choice for orchestra and audience alike – ending with a flourish which drew well-deserved applause.

Should a local orchestra attempt the unusual sometimes? My answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’. Even if serial music is not so popular, it is powerful and magical. And how privileged we are to have the skilled HSO perform it for us!

Horsham Symphony Orchestra’s triple dose of tragedy

Review by Louisa Jones

26 November 2016

The Capitol, Horsham

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet Suite

Berlioz: Romeo and Juliet Scène d’amour

Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"

Horsham Symphony Orchestra opened its 2016-17 season on Saturday 26 November at The Capitol with some of the most exquisitely tragic pieces written for orchestra, inspired by Shakespeare’s tale of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. The opening bars of Prokofiev’s ballet suite enforced a mood of nervous exhilaration, as a battery of brash dissonance twice dissolved into a cathedral hush of sustained strings. The following tense melody of ‘Montagues and Capulets’ – known to many from the titles of BBC TV series The Apprentice – was similarly energised. The orchestra does loud very well; however, conductor Steve Dummer could have guided his players to intensify the emotional contrasts of the rest of the suite through more sensitive dynamic contouring and attention to textural detail.

Occasionally such moments surfaced in Berlioz’s ‘Scène d’Amour’, whose richer lyrical passages compelled Dummer to abandon the baton for more expressive hand gestures. After the interval, the audience was treated to an excerpt of Shakespeare’s own balcony scene (performed with youthful realism by two students from Guildford School of Acting, Katy Ellis and Harry Cooper), which provided a calming focus before the raw energy of the final showdown – Bernstein’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ from the musical West Side Story. Despite all its rhythmic intricacies – interweaving elements of classical modernism, Latin American genres and jazz – the orchestra pulled together to make this euphemism for interracial violence and loss pure gold. It was especially heart-warming to see the four young percussionists letting rip on drum kit, bongos and even a police whistle with visible enjoyment: I can think of no better introduction for budding instrumentalists to the world of orchestral music!

At the beginning of the concert Dummer introduced Adriano Adewale, the Brazilian composer with whom the orchestra will shortly begin work on a new commission as part of Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme. This will be a fantastic opportunity for our local orchestra and is testament to its enthusiasm for programming lesser-known and more modern classical works over the recent years. I look forward to hearing the results at their concert in July 2017.

Orchestra and Young Pianist On Fine Form

Review by Stephen Dennison

25 June 2016

The Capitol, Horsham

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Barry Sutton

Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 3 Op. 72b

Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 2 Op. 102 (Soloist: Julian Trevelyan)

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 In D

Horsham Symphony Orchestra’s summer concert was dedicated to the memory of John Stilwell, former President of the orchestra, cellist and teacher, who died in May.

Steve Dummer led the orchestra with verve and athleticism. The programme began with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No 3 and introduced us to solos from trumpet, horn and flute and the leadership of Barry Sutton.

Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2 followed with the prodigious talent of the teenage Julian Trevelyan, BBC Young Musician Piano Finalist 2016, in Horsham for the first time. Julian is clearly a star of the future and he received rapturous applause for his energetic rendering of the concerto, both the memorable and lyrical Andante and the rippling Allegro. Julian then treated us to a short impromptu encore, the Musical Snuffbox by Anatoly Lyadov. He is a confident young musician.

The second half was filled with Mahler’s well-known Symphony No 1. Steve Dummer marshaled the whole team, through the bird songs of the first movement, the tender and lyrical second, the funereal third, before the stormy fourth movement bringing all of the symphony together with extensive percussion reaching the rousing end; depression giving way to hope. Overall this feels like a symphony which is more fun to play for brass and woodwind than strings and there were a number of beautiful wind entries introduced with style by Steve Dummer.

Overall this was a neatly balanced programme with the orchestra in fine form and the bonus of hearing a special piano talent for the first time.

Technique and Flair

Review by John Sherlock

20 March 2016

The Capitol, Horsham

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Rachel Ellis

Gershwin: Cuban Overture

Arnold: English Dances Set 1 Op 27

Milhaud: Scaramouche (soloist: Gerald McChrystal)

Gershwin: An American in Paris

Heath: The Celtic (soloist: Gerald McChrystal)

Ravel: La Valse

This was an astonishing programme. HSO have proved in the past that they are skilled interpreters of the romantic repertoire. This time they offered an afternoon of 20th century music that required intense player technique and concentration.

They delivered this challenging programme superbly. In the first piece – Gershwin’s energetic Cuban Overture – we were skilfully transported to a faraway destination, with a magic woodwind sound conjuring lazy Caribbean evenings.

The Arnold brought us home again, demanding extraordinary feats from the players, who came across as highly competent and unflustered.

The charismatic saxophonist Gerard McChrystal joined us for Milhaud’s rhythmic ‘Scaramouche’ and once again the woodwind excelled, delightfully duetting with the soloist in the slow movement.

But it was perhaps after the break that things really livened up. We enjoyed a lush but polished rendering of Gershwin’s ‘American in Paris’, before Gerard came on again as soloist for Heath’s ‘The Celtic’. This time it was the orchestra’s strings that accompanied, demonstrating extraordinary partnering and musical skills, especially for the lyrical ‘Lament’.

At Steve Dummer’s skilful cue the entire auditorium clapped Gerard into playing an unscheduled but delightful Irish jig before the orchestra offered the afternoon’s finale – a performance of the Ravel’s melancholic ‘La Valse’. Once again we were transported by skilful musicianship to a dreamlike vision of a long-lost Vienna.

If only The Capitol could attend to detail as well as orchestra does. Once again auditorium lighting levels made it impossible to study the excellent programme notes. It’s a pity that poor venue management is allowed to spoil the audience’s enjoyment of such a superbly talented local orchestra.

HSO: A Jewel in the Crown

Review by John Sherlock

21 November 2015

The Capitol, Horsham

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Barry Sutton

Brahms: Double Concerto (Soloists: Rachel Ellis and Pavlos Carvalho)

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6

Steve Dummer always has the ‘mot juste’. He introduced the second half of HSO’s concert by congratulating the soloists of the first half, then reminding us all about the Horsham Second Orchestra’s upcoming concert at St Mark’s Church (December 1st at 7.30), and then introducing Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony.

Known as the ‘Pathétique’, it is indeed a work full of pathos. It didn’t take long for listeners to realise this was going to be a moving and special performance. The opening was stunning, the five-four waltz was a complete delight, and the march-like third movement almost had us on our feet. The audience responded to the dying notes of the heart-rending final movement with a silence that spoke louder than the well-deserved applause that followed.

Brahms’ Double Concerto is a tougher nut to crack. While definitely one of my ‘desert island’ composers, I find myself seeking a balance of intellect, energy and lushness that wasn’t quite achieved this time. Perhaps I’m being too harsh? It didn’t help being plunged into darkness so that we couldn’t follow the superb programme notes. HSO certainly didn’t lack confidence or accuracy at the start, and the middle movement – one of Brahms’ grand tunes – was as good as you’ll hear anywhere. The dance-like final movement was a joy, and the soloists were fabulous.

We are amazingly privileged to have such a team of musicians on our doorstep. If there is hint of dissatisfaction in what I’ve written it is only because the bar is set so high. HSO is a jewel in Horsham’s crown of talent. Tchaikovsky 6 was quite extraordinary.

Horsham Symphony Orchestra concert: a resounding success

Review by Bob Eagle

13 June 2015

The Capitol, Horsham

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Rachel Ellis

Weber: Overture Der Freischütz

Mendelssohn: Konzertstücke No 1 & 2 for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68

Horsham Symphony Orchestra gave us another demonstration of why they must be one of the best local orchestras in the country. Ably conducted with animated energy by Steve Dummer, whose good humoured introductions always set the scene nicely, the orchestra began with Weber’s Overture from Der Freischütz. I think it might have been my earlier suggestion that the orchestra should begin its concert with a short piece such as an overture. It gives the orchestra and the audience a chance to warm up. This particular piece is no easy opening. The opera itself is considered the first important German Romantic opera. The opening Adagio created the sense of mystery, followed by the sound of the forces of evil which gave way nicely to the Molto vivace. Further dramatic elements (which included well controlled horn ensemble and clarinet solo) made way for an energetic, exuberant and triumphant finale: the full opera in a nutshell.

For the second piece (Mendelssohn - Konzertstücke No 1 & 2 for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra ) we were in for a treat. Steve Dummer, apart from being a fine conductor, is also an acclaimed clarinettist. And he demonstrated his skills as he both took the clarinet solo lead as well as continuing to direct the orchestra. Andrew Meredith, also a member of the orchestra, brilliantly complemented Steve on the basset horn as both made light work of the virtuoso passages. As Steve Dummer put it: “I get all the tunes, he does all the hard work”.The performance was mesmerising. They were perfectly together.

And then, after the interval, the finale in the form of Brahms Symphony No 1 in C minor. These well known symphonies can become a little pedestrian with some orchestras. Not so here. The symphony began in dramatic fashion with the low drumming and the moving figures of strings and wind instruments leading to a well played Allegro section with its many and varying demands on the orchestra. In the slow movement the orchestra played with a light but lyrical style with particular credit going to members of the woodwind section. The violin solo was beautifully executed by the orchestra’s leader, Rachel Ellis. In the third, scherzo-like movement, the orchestra appeared to manage with ease the complex rhythms in which the brass section was particularly effective. The main theme of the fourth movement has something of the feel of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, albeit a distinct and stirring melody of which I am very fond, and the orchestra rose to the occasion magnificently at the grand finale.

All in all, a fine evening of music which was so evidently appreciated by the near capacity audience. Horsham has every reason to be proud of its very talented orchestra.

Horsham Symphony Orchestra achieves Copland’s ‘American sound’ in ambitious concert programme

Review by Louisa Jones

21 March 2015

The Capitol, Horsham

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Barry Sutton

Local amateur ensemble Horsham Symphony Orchestra took to the stage of The Capitol on Saturday 21 March with a challenging programme – for performer and listener alike – of Stravinsky, Grieg and Copland.

It was brave step to open with Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, described by conductor and musical director, Steve Dummer, as ‘one of the most original pieces in the history of music’. The players took a while to settle into this sparse patchwork of textures, but finally from the section principals’ deft musical dialogue grew a more rounded, but suitably understated, ending.

Grieg’s Holberg Suite for strings landed us back in more familiar territory, with a Nordic twist on the 18th-century dance suite. Violinist Rachel Ellis played and directed simultaneously from the podium, which, while baffling some audience members, allowed her to tease out some of the finer technical points of the piece. Particularly moving was the operatic ‘Air’, the emotional melody of the violins and cellos underscored sympathetically by the rest of the ensemble.

HSO’s full forces joined together again in the concert’s second half for what was the undoubted highlight of the evening, Copland’s rarely performed Symphony No 3. It is often claimed that American orchestras struggle to replicate the uniquely English, pastoral quality of the music of Elgar. The same could not be said in reverse for this ensemble, who – from the cut-glass clarity of the opening bars, through shimmering string textures, towards the forthright ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ – admirably captured the wide open spaces of Copland’s own ‘American sound’.

Dummer’s down-to-earth stage presence and short, amiable commentaries to the pieces gave the whole concert a welcoming vibe, enjoyed by a large audience of all ages. With limited opportunities to hear high-quality orchestral music in the county, it’s heartening to see an ambitious amateur group like HSO filling the gap.

Wonderful music and quite remarkable performances!

Review by Patrick Harrex

22 November 2014

The Capitol, Horsham

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Rachel Ellis

The moment the conductor leapt on to the rostrum and the Horsham Symphony Orchestra launched into Offenbach's overture to Orpheus in the Underworld we knew we were in for a treat at the Capitol last Saturday. It was an exciting and energetic opening, introducing us to the rich orchestral sound and some glorious individual playing from the orchestra's principals.

But even that did not prepare us for the revelation of the evening. Steve Dummer is well known as an advocate and ambassador for contemporary music. On this occasion he was bold enough to include Lutoslawski's Mi-parti, completed in 1976, a work that is demanding of any orchestra, and this one clearly relished the challenge. His introduction to the work was helpful and entertaining - at times perhaps unnecessarily deprecating, leaving the audience wondering what they were to be subjected to. But they need not have worried! From the start, the rich string sonorities that belied the dissonance, on paper, of the orchestral writing, made it clear we were in for a very special experience. Throughout this 15 minute piece the colourful textures created by the composer were perfectly realised, both in the tutti passages and more lightly scored moments – one of the most memorable being a trio of mellifluous flutes accompanied by gentle strings. Amazingly beautiful sounds were contrasted with thrilling and sometimes raucous passages when the full might of the brass section was unleashed. The ending – high, shimmering strings alongside harp and softly beating timpani - was quite magical and drew rapturous applause from the audience.

After the interval we were treated to a performance of Rachmaninov's second symphony that revealed all its drama and emotion. At about an hour long it was another testing piece for the orchestra. There were one or two moments when its sheer physical, let alone emotional, demands began to tell, reminding us that this was an amateur orchestra we were listening to, but the audience was gripped and spellbound by the intensity of the playing. Once again, Steve Dummer's enthusiastic and very physical direction and moulding of the orchestral sound brought out the best in the players and gave us an evening to remember. Wonderful music and quite remarkable performances!

Elgar would have loved it!

Review by Jane Thomas

28 June 2014

The Capitol, Horsham

Violin: Rachel Ellis

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Barry Sutton

Ten years ago, the HSO successfully paired Sibelius’s heroic fifth symphony with Tchaikowsky’s great violin concerto. Last night’s coupling of Sibelius’s third symphony with another mighty violin concerto - that of Elgar - was equally felicitous. Interestingly, although both works were premiered within three years of each other, the contrast couldn’t be starker. Can any other composer but Sibelius make a major key sound so melancholy, with his smouldering brass and cross-rhythmic undercurrents? And can anyone but Elgar make a minor key sound so gloriously optimistic, with the HSO - led by Barry Sutton and conducted by Steve Dummer in terrific form - playing their socks off?

If the Sibelius was all about carefully-crafted, complex neo-classicism, the Elgar was all elegiac passion. In his own words: “It’s too emotional, but I love it!” Well, he would certainly have loved last night’s solo performance from the HSO’s co-leader, Rachel Ellis. Giving the performance of a life-time, Rachel radiated total musical absorption, supporting emotional intensity with stunning virtuosity and shamelessly romantic lyricism. She wrung an immense tone from her instrument, able to soar clearly over the orchestra but also communicating intimately with individual players.

Elgar would have loved it!

A team to be proud of

Review by John Sherlock

30 March 2014

The Capitol, Horsham

Cello Soloist (Tchaikovsky and Dvořák): Laura van der Heijden

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Rachel Ellis


Brahms: Hungarian Dances 1, 3 and 10

Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo theme Op. 33

Sibelius: Valse Triste, Op. 44 No. 1

Dvořák: Rondo for Cello and Orchestra Op. 94

Bizet: Jeux d'enfants Op. 22

On Sunday afternoon, at The Capitol, I found myself sitting next to an 11 year old cellist. Her reaction to Laura van der Heijden's playing was "she's good". The understatement of the year? Laura is the complete performer - from the moment she strides into the platform you know you are about to enjoy a stunning performance. She gave us Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations - in which she made the cello 'sing' - and Dvořák's Rondo - displaying virtuosity as well as lyricism.

For these items the Horsham Symphony Orchestra was reduced to the role of accompanist - which requires great accuracy and watchfulness. The orchestra was competent but not faultless. However, the orchestral pizzicato re-entry after the cadenza in the Tchaikovsky was as good as you'll ever get!

For the rest of the programme, we enjoyed Brahms, Sibelius and Bizet. Steve Dummer's light and humorous introductions to each piece are perfect in tone - and the energy of the orchestra (particularly in the opening Brahms dance and the closing Bizet 'Galop') was palpable. The Sibelius Valse Triste was once again dedicated to the memory of Horsham musician Laura Skuce, who died last year.

Well done this time to the technical people at The Capitol for not plunging the audience into total darkness for the performance. It meant we could just make out the excellent programme notes!

Smiling faces - including many youngsters - were an indication of the delight HSO brings to the community. The orchestra has all the skills it needs to diagnose and solve the little technical problems of balance and co-ordination. Such faults are more than made up for by the spirit and enthusiasm of the players under Steve Dummer's charismatic baton and Rachel Ellis's energetic leadership. All in all, a team to be very proud of!

Energy and Confidence

Review by John Sherlock

1 March 2014

The Capitol, Horsham

Piano Soloist (Beethoven): Warren Mailley-Smith

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Leader: Barry Sutton

What an inspiring band the HSO has become! From the crashing opening chord of the Beethoven the audience sensed energy and confidence. Warren Mailley-Smith gave a superb rendering of this perhaps the most famous of the Beethoven concertos, with its sublime slow movement. The handovers from soloist to orchestra were handled masterfully.

After the interval, an extra item was slipped in – Sibelius’ Valse Triste which was offered in memory of Laura Skuce who died last year. Steve Dummer introduced the piece as being ‘full of spirit, like Laura’ and the orchestra played it beautifully – so much so that there was a poignant silence at its close before the well-deserved applause cut in.

And then, as a splendid finale to the concert, we heard Shostakovich’s ninth. According to the programme note, the composer himself said of this piece ‘Musicians will like to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it’. Perhaps it is only now, decades after it was written, that we can begin to pick up the irony that Shostakovich built into this wonderful symphony. It’s a hard piece for any orchestra, but the HSO performed it with polish and professionalism. The strings had much of the hard work, and the wind solos were astonishingly well executed – with special mention being deserved by the piccolo and bassoon players! Once again, Steve Dummer’s well-chosen introductory words gave us the context we needed, with excellent programme notes to help with the detail.

There were very few empty seats. With this quality of live music on our doorstep, there is really no excuse for a single one! I can’t wait for the HSO’s next concert on 30th March, which will feature BBC Young Musician Laura van der Heijden.

A feast of sound!

Review by John Sherlock

23 November 2013

The Capitol, Horsham

Soloists: Philippa Dearsley, Melanie Sanders, Mark Bradbury, Ed Hawkins

Conductor: Andrew Cleary, Steve Dummer

Last Saturday’s concert, combining the forces of the Horsham Symphony Orchestra and the Christ’s Hospital Choral Society, was memorable. By the end of the evening, with hundreds of smiling faces coming out of the auditorium, it was clear that the performers – orchestra, chorus, soloists and conductors – had lifted many spirits. But what a contrast this was to the opening of the concert! The beginning of the Brahms Academic overture needs to be strictly disciplined and very rhythmic – it was neither. It wasn’t until the full orchestra was involved – some two minutes into the piece – that confidence was regained.

There was a much more confident start to the second Brahms piece – the Song of Destiny. Another quiet opening, but this time beautifully executed by the orchestra, with all the lushness of sound that Brahms intended. When the choir entered they quickly dispelled any fear that the balance of chorus and orchestra might be out of kilter. From where I was sitting, the sound was perfect. The tempo changes were handled in a masterly fashion.

In previous concerts, the HSO have set amazingly high standards, so my comments on the opening piece may seem a little harsh. But when Beethoven’s mighty Choral Symphony began we know we were good hands. It was an electrifying performance, from the opening notes to the grand climax. If audience confidence in the orchestra’s ability had ever been briefly misplaced, the second movement restored it. The HSO had us all on the edge of our seats. And the slow third movement made me notice how the clarinets have a such a pivotal role in this ‘greatest of all slow movements’.

And so to the finale of the Beethoven – what a feast of sound! The sheer energy of choir, orchestra, soloists and conductor was palpable, and as each section of this great movement reached its climax our spirits were lifted higher and higher. Andrew Cleary had prepared the magnificent choir superbly, and Steve Dummer similarly had worked hard with HSO, who played with astonishing commitment and energy under the leadership of Rachel Ellis – a truly professional sound! The soloists, Philippa Dearsley, Melanie Sanders, Mark Bradbury and Ed Hawkins sang out their verses of Schiller’s great Ode to Joy convincingly and communicatively. All in all, a great team collaboration, a fabulous concert and a Horsham evening to remember.

A stunning concert from the HSO

Review by Jane Thomas

29 June 2013

The Capitol, Horsham

Piano: Margaret Lynn

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Stravinski's The Firebird was the sensation of the Russian Ballet season at the Paris Opera in 1910; and the five-movement suite he later re-worked into an orchestral tour-de-force proved equally sensational on Saturday night as the culmination of a stunning concert from the HSO under its charismatic conductor, Steve Dummer.

The evening began magically with Grace Meinertzhagen's haunting flute solo heralding a highly evocative performance of Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune.

And, on a lovely summer's evening, what could be nicer than to revel in the shifting, hazy timbres of Debussy's "strange world of waking dreams", with beautifully-judged phrases from solo wind and horn, against a shimmering background of strings and harp glissandos.

Well, how about following it with another sultry opening, exchanging French Impressionism for a truly Spanish combination of melancholy and fervour in Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Garden of Spain? Here the soloist was Margaret Lynn, who gave us in turn lyricism, rhythmic playfulness and virtuosic brilliance, as the work demands.

After the interval Steve Dummer demonstrated just why the HSO now play to capacity audiences. His relaxed, informal introductions wer followed by totally focused, engrossing performances of two more 20th century orchestral suites: first the delightfully quirky Mother Goose by Ravel, and then the ferociously demanding Firebird. Eerie, enchanting, explosive, and an extraordinarily effective final crescendo. In short, sensational!

A Marvelous Mahler

Review by Bob Eagle

16 March 2013

The Capitol, Horsham

Flute: Henry Roberts

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Horsham Symphony Orchestra (leader: Rachel Ellis) rose to new heights with a most ambitious programme at the Capitol on Saturday 16 March.

The first half consisted of Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G: a bright and sprightly piece with the excellent local flute soloist Henry Roberts. The first movement, taken at a thrilling pace, showed Henry’s formidable skills from the outset. With sympathetic yet driving accompaniment it fairly skipped along. The second, slow movement, revealed more of Henry’s talent in sustained, nicely controlled, flowing passages, especially in the cadenza. The interweaving of the flute and orchestra was particularly pleasing. The final movement, a beautifully crafted Rondo, minuet style, once again allowed Henry to demonstrate some superb dexterity. The orchestra was both supportive and balanced throughout.

The second half of the concert was given over to Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony. Written for a large orchestra, it has a running time of about 75 minutes and is an exceptionally demanding piece for any orchestra. It is not for the faint-hearted!

Steve Dummer opened with his usual easy-going conversation with the capacity audience, explaining the choice of the programme and emphasising its challenging nature.

Steve paced the whole piece with skill and flair. The funereal opening gave way to the vehement stormy second movement which the orchestra played with all the drama inherent in the piece. The long, varied and technically demanding Scherzo third moment was lively, taken at a good pace and enabled each section of the orchestra to shine, demonstrating some fine musicianship. The fourth movement consists of probably the best known part of the work - it often features as a stand-alone performance. Dare I say, it has something of a classic romantic film score about it (indeed it has been used for that purpose). But it was played with sensitivity and style. A calming interlude. The finale is a Rondo requiring seriously competent playing leading to the splendid and thrilling climax. All parts of the orchestra excelled but special mention must go to the brass section who, except for two horns were not needed for the Mozart, but given plenty to do in the Mahler, rose to the occasion splendidly.

Horsham and its surrounding district is indeed fortunate to have such a fine collection of talented and gifted players of a full range of orchestral instruments. Under the inspired direction of Steve Dummer they perform with confidence and panache. He has clearly gelled them into a fine orchestra which sets itself very high standards and takes on new challenges to the evident pleasure of its audience.

HSO Concert: A delight

Review by Bob Eagle

17 November 2012

The Capitol, Horsham

Trombone: Ryan Hume

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Horsham Symphony Orchestra excelled again and delighted a capacity audience with a rich, varied and technically demanding programme at their concert at the Capitol on Saturday 17 November.

Horsham is indeed fortunate to have such a talented group of musicians under the gifted and inspired leadership of their conductor, Steve Dummer. Steve has a refreshing approach; setting aside pomp and ceremony to chat to the audience about the items in the programme to come.

We started with Britten’s Four Sea Interludes. Drawn from the opera Peter Grimes, the interludes demonstrated the dexterity of the orchestra from the opening peaceful calm of “Dawn” through to the thrilling discordant energy of “Storm”.

Next up was Jacob’s Trombone Concerto. Such concertos are rare - I can’t actually recall having seen this performed before. Indeed it is said that this was written in 1955 for the country's leading trombonist, Denis Wick, who had looked in vain for a modern trombone concerto that would show off his full virtuosity. This was a triumphant and accomplished performance by the talented soloist, Ryan Hume, originally from West Sussex. In his hands the trombone came alive. The third movement, in particular, showed the soloist’s virtuoso skills together with a full blooded orchestral accompaniment.

Finally we were treated to Elgar’s first symphony. A fitting choice after a year of British sporting success: Elgar always brings out the best of British-ness. The orchestra captured the fine nobility of the piece. The opening stirring melody set the scene for what followed. A vivacious second movement, full of dynamism, was followed by the beautiful tranquility of the third movement. It was in these two movements that the orchestra displayed the full range of their skills. The fourth movement is in a classic Elgar March style and is often described as a having a triumphant and confident ending. That also sums up the HSO’s performance.

All in all, a great evening of rich and diverse music, demonstrating the range of talent of this fine orchestra of which Horsham has every reason to be proud.

40th anniversary concert - A Triumph

Review by Bob Eagle

23 June 2012

The Capitol, Horsham

Violin: Jenny King

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Horsham Symphony Orchestra's 40th anniversary concert on 23rd June at the Capitol demonstrated the fine versatility and impressive talent of an Orchestra of which the town has every reason to be proud.

Technically, the music was played with artistry and flair. The great conductor Celibidace said to his conducting students: “As you are, so shall the music be”. Steve Dummer, the conductor, caused the orchestra to deliver a marvellous performance in a delightful and varied programme.

But music is not about technicality: it is about how it impacts on the listener. The capacity audience at the Capitol was clearly elated with what they heard.

The concert opened with Frank Bridge’s Symphonic Summer Poem. This is a tone poem, not concerned with form, but is rather about inspiration, played with a combination of sprightly and dramatic styles evocative of the delights of summer.

This was followed by Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 82. Wow! Horsham’s own Jenny King, the brilliant soloist, turned in a virtuoso performance with panache and confidence bringing out the beautifully lyrical themes. This piece requires considerable double-stopping technique; Jenny handled it with skill and dexterity. The orchestra provided an accompaniment which was both sympathetic and rich in texture. And Steve achieved exactly the right balance between soloist and orchestra.

The concert ended with Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 2 (A London Symphony). Sir Georg Solti once said that an orchestra sometimes plays too loud, too fast, too slow, but never too soft. He would have appreciated in particular the parts of the second movement played with ethereal softness and even more so the end of the third movement with its spine-tingling “pppp”. The whole piece, and particularly the thrilling finale, was evocative of London - a fitting choice given London’s prominence in current events.

The audience gave the performers a well-deserved and ecstatic response at the end. All in all, a highly accomplished performance; an inspiring and uplifting evening.

Enterprise, bravery and more than a little passion

Review by Dr Adam Swayne, Senior Lecturer in Music, University of Chichester

24 March 2012

The Capitol, Horsham

Soloist: Heather Cairncross

Conductor: Steve Dummer

Enterprise, bravery and more than a little passion were the driving forces behind the Horsham Symphony Orchestra in their latest concert.

The centrepiece was Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5- part of the core repertoire these days- but nonetheless an awesome challenge for any orchestra. Shostakovich’s delicate scoring exposes the difficult parts written for each performer.

The amateur players of the HSO rose to this challenge with quite some chutzpah. Their chef d’orchestre, Steve Dummer, supported them all the way by ensuring that every single musical ingredient could be identified in his gestures, and the resulting feast was served up with generous garnish to boot.

However, culinary metaphors can’t stretch far enough to describe the full impact of the symphony. This was a first-rate interpretation, with tempi carefully calculated to shattering effect (I am sure I have never heard the ending as slow and as fierce). For many observers the horror of Stalin’s purges underpin each bar of the music, and since the performance was dedicated to a relation of an orchestral member that attended the Leningrad première, this horror seems not too distant from our own time. This contributed in no small way to the emotional nature of the account.

Before the interval we were treated to two less familiar works, Beethoven’s Leonora Overture No.1 (which was never actually used in the composer’s troubled opera) and Mahler’s Rücket Lieder with soloist Heather Cairncross. Miss Cairncross projected even the most delicate moments to the back of the room and demonstrated her ability to traverse an impressive range of musical styles (local audiences may be familiar with her performances of jazz and contemporary music).

If not every orchestral entry was entirely secure in these tricky works, then the enterprising nature of the programme more than compensated for this. Aidan Gardner’s witty and informative notes ably assisted the capacity audience’s enthused response. This time the HSO got personal, and even the off-putting flickering lights of the Capitol Theatre couldn’t extinguish their fire.

One of Britain's finest

Review by Dr Adam Swayne, Senior Lecturer in Music, University of Chichester

19 November 2011

The Capitol, Horsham

Horns Anthony Halstead and Philip Thompson

Violin Rachel Ellis

Conductor Steve Dummer

In their latest performance the Horsham Symphony Orchestra demonstrated why they are becoming known as one of Britain’s finest amateur orchestras.

Conductor Steve Dummer provided expert attention to detail alongside a sense of comradery with members of the ensemble that enabled each player to shine.

First on the programme was Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn in which the composer delves inside a simple melody and discovers remarkable musical treasures. The HSO navigated the complexities of Brahms’ score with elegance and humour, sparkling especially in the exuberant finale.

Hornists Anthony Halstead and Philip Thompson provided a highly spirited performance of Haydn’s Double Horn Concerto that brought to life the rustic hunting calls and folk-style melodies on top of a bouncy and sensitive accompaniment by the orchestra.

The second half was given over to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Persian sound-picture Scheherazade in a performance movingly dedicated to an ex-orchestra member celebrating a fairytale romance of her own. Leader of the orchestra Rachel Ellis despatched the violin cadenzas with panache and finesse, inspiring the entire string section in a watery richness that ideally caught the nautical air. The wind and brass section brought some beguiling musical spices to the voyage, while the harpist and percussionists injected the festive scenes with a few shots of rum.

The capacity audience was clearly enraptured, and cheered each time the conductor brought a soloist to their feet.

Now that the HSO has created a training orchestra (amusingly named H2O!) and is also preparing their first tour next summer, their enterprise and enthusiasm is clearly permeating the Horsham community and beyond. Surely we can expect at least a thousand-and-one more nights like this?

Triumphant Evening

Review by Jane Thomas

18 June 2011

The Capitol, Horsham

Piano Alison Farrant

Conductor Steve Dummer

There was a lovely moment at the beginning of the second half of the HSO concert when Steve Dummer asked the rhetorical question: “Why does anyone need to travel to London to a concert when they could come to Horsham’s Capitol Theatre and hear our wonderful orchestra and superb soloist? Well no, they couldn’t – because we’re sold out!” It was a moment of tongue-in-cheek triumphalism, and totally justified by the terrific performance of Tchaikovsky’s second symphony which was to follow, not to mention one of the most memorable renditions of Chopin’s first piano concerto that I have been privileged to hear.

Alison Farrant is no stranger to the HSO, having played Rachmaninov with them three years ago. Her enviable local reputation as both player and teacher ensures a packed house, with many youngsters thoroughly enjoying a full symphonic programme for the first – and hopefully not for the last - time. Confident in a superb technique, Alison performed the Chopin with a perfect combination of brilliance and lyricism, wringing every ounce of beauty from Chopin’s expansively cantabile themes one minute, and frisking around the keys with sparkling dexterity the next. Accompanied most sympathetically by the HSO, led by Alison’s husband Barry Sutton - what a combination of musical talents! - the concerto romped to its joyous conclusion, to an ecstatic audience reception.

After the interval, Steve Dummer showed exactly why the HSO concerts are so well attended. Using his charismatic “ring-master” persona, he demonstrated the folk-themes on which much of the Tchaikovsky symphony is based by getting the HSO to sing them – in Russian, no less! Then, with the audience already in the palm of his hand, we were treated to a beautifully-controlled, haunting horn solo – Richard Gamlen at his best – leading into what proved to be a thoroughly engrossing performance. The HSO played with total commitment, the strings providing a rich, warm palette punctuated by tight, crisp brass and colourful woodwind. Timpani and percussion were spot-on, as they had been in the Rossini overture which preceded the concerto; and after the triumphant conclusion of the fourth movement one was left wondering quite why this delightful symphony is not performed more often. It certainly proved a winner with this audience!

Heroics in Horsham

Review by Paul Holland

20 November 2010

The Capitol, Horsham

Violin Rachel Ellis

Conductor Steve Dummer

What a fine orchestra we have, resident here in Horsham! Once again a very willing public trekked out on a cold November evening to be treated to a feast for the ears: A brace of classic favourites paired with the less-known Galánta Dances by Kodály; superb team-playing within the vast architecture of Beethoven’s epic Third Symphony, alongside a virtuosic solo-performance in Mendelssohn’s sublime Violin Concerto.

A concert often opens with a lightweight, even fluffy, overture, not merely to whet the audience’s appetite, but also to warm up a nervous orchestra… None of this for the Horsham Symphony Orchestra, who opened with the magnificent Galánta Dances, fully symphonic in both scope and orchestration. This brilliant, sparkling set of contrasting variations on pre-war Magyar themes sweeps us breathlessly through a series of landscapes, and that an orchestra in the middle of Sussex can convey a complex, Hungarian voice so assuredly is to be admired.

Rachel Ellis, herself a regular player with the orchestra, played the role of soloist thrillingly in the next piece. She brought a personal and confident flair to her performance

of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, in which she was able to bring her prodigious talent to bear on all the vibrant, witty variety of his early Romanticism. This truly is a mature work by an artist at the height of his powers, and although all-too familiar to modern audiences, the soloist held our attention to the very end with the lightning control and heartfelt power of her playing. Behind her, the orchestra, carefully steered by Leader Barry Sutton, provided the subtle and steady support which HSO can so admirably provide when playing concerti. Under the indomitable and ever-energetic baton of Steve Dummer, the HSO has tackled plenty of great symphonies over the years; so it was a fitting end to this concert that they should take on Beethoven’s Eroica. How different this is, despite its familiarity, from the Mendelssohn; here is a composer who has only just found his true voice, an artist still struggling to forge something from the moulds he is himself smashing. The orchestra easily captured the majestic sweep of this vast, new music, especially in the shock and violence of the opening movement and in the despair of the funeral march. Once again, the HSO has reminded us how fortunate the town is to have dedicated players and performers putting on such memorable cultural events three times each year.

Charm Personified

Review by Jane Thomas

19 June 2010

The Capitol, Horsham

Violin Sara Stagg

Conductor Steve Dummer

There was an essentially "local" feel to the HSO concert last Saturday, the Capitol Theatre being packed with supporters for their own town orchestra, a local soloist, and the world premiere of a commissioned work by a Sussex-based composer. Added to that, the Brahms symphony which constituted the second half of the programme was dedicated to the memory of long-time HSO player and supporter John Harry, who died two months ago. His widow Audrey, also associated with the HSO for very many years, must have been immensely moved by the performance of the symphony, the orchestra obviously playing their hearts out in tribute to their dear friend John.

But back to the beginning! It is often difficult to "sell" a contemporary work to its first audience, but conductor Steve Dummer managed it excellently, with a brief introduction which left us in no doubt as to the treat in store for us. Julian Broughton's Symphony in E is composed in the traditional four movement structure, but there tradition ends and his own original voice beings. He writes on a big scale with enormous attention to detail, and the wind parts especially provided brilliant shafts of colour to the script - and a real challenge to the HSO wind section, which rose as always to the occasion. The second movement, starting with shimmering strings reminiscent of Saint-Saens' "Aviary", was quite delightful, and the last passacaglia showed Broughton's skills both as a contrapuntist and an orchestrator.

After such an intense listening experience, the Mozart 4th violin concerto proved perfect programming, with its light orchestration and irrepressible charm bringing the audience back to familiar territory. Here the soloist was local musician Sara Stagg, who played with sparkling dexterity and stylistically elegant approach throughout. The second movement showed a lovely breadth of line and real communication with the orchestra, and the final rondo - with its wittily contrasting dance episodes - was charm personified.

It is easy the think of conductor Steve Dummer as a charismatic, ebullient frontsman for the HSO; but in fact this belies a steely grasp of even the most tortuous of scores and an extraordinary ability to focus the orchestra. The HSO last performed Brahms 2nd symphony in 1997, and I wrote then that they played it with conviction and panache. This time they again played with conviction and panache but with an added passion, making an unbeatable combination well deserving of the tumultuous applause at the end of yet another superb concert.

Locally composed

Review by Paul Holland

28 March 2010

The Capitol, Horsham

Clarinet Andrew Meredith

Conductor Steve Dummer

After the wild and majestic heights attained in their previous concert with Beethoven and Shostakovich, this latest outing for the Horsham Symphony Orchestra aimed to offer the audience a much lighter programmer, brining together a number of much-loved, popular classics with the gentler tones of mid-twentieth-century English ensemble-writing. Despite being a Sunday performance, there was still a fantastic turn-out in the audience.

As ever, with each new concert under its exuberant conductor, the excellent Steve Dummer, the orchestra's playing is tighter and more precise than ever. The opening curtain-raiser, Mussorgsky's A Night On The Bare Mountain, simmered with almost shocking clarity, with even the densest moments of scurrying, bristling anarchy being cut off by sharp and absolute silences.

With Andrew Meredith's solo performance on Finzi's Clarinet Concerto we saw once again what accomplished talent we have right here in Horsham. This is a relatively unknown piece, the soloist supported by strings alone, resulting in a typically English sound, by turns wistful, energetic, pastoral and rustic.

The concert's second half began with two pieces by local Collyer's pupil, Ryan Hume, whos two pieces, The Night Before the Battle and Movement from a Trombone Concerto went down very well indeed with the audience. Ryan himself played magnificently in his own concerto, and both pieces suggest he has plenty more to offer us in the future. The grand finale took us back to the great Russian composers, this time Rimsky-Korsakov, but now via Spain. The Capriccio Espagnol, with leader Barry Sutton enjoying his moments of virtuoso flourishes, brought this whole springtime concert to a rousing conclusion, and shows us again how lucky we are to have such a talented and committed orchestra in our midst!

Town should be proud of having such a fantastic Orchestra!

Review by Jane Thomas

21 November 2009

The Capitol, Horsham

Violinist Madeleine Easton

Conductor Steve Dummer

Four years ago I was writing a paean of praise to the musicians of Horsham for transforming several bleak November evenings into memorable, sell-out performances. Then it was Jesus Christ Superstar from HAODS and a wonderfully colourful programme – Sibelius, Rodrigo and Elgar - from the HSO.

This November we have had a superb run of Fiddler on the Roof from HAODS, followed by a stunning evening of Beethoven and Shostakovich from the HSO under their charismatic conductor, Steve Dummer.

And again, the Capitol was sold out! What an amazing achievement and how incredibly lucky we are in Horsham to have such wonderful and dedicated groups of musicians.

The programme began with Beethoven’s sublime violin concerto, played with beautiful line and lyrical charm by Madeleine Easton, who is – amongst other things – concertmaster of the renowned Hanover Band. Her understanding of the work was apparent from the start: not for her the “me versus them” attitude of some violin virtuosi, but a dialogue throughout, with a particularly lovely second movement leading to a splendidly exuberant Rondo. Steve Dummer accompanied throughout with a relaxed but watchful baton, never losing contact with his soloist. Then came the Shostakovich! Many years ago, Charles Hazelwood – who succeeded Malcolm McKelvey as conductor of the HSO - assured reviewer Peter Buchan that he could see the orchestra improving enough to tackle Sibelius. Well they have tackled Sibelius several times since then, but Shostakovich? His massive tenth symphony? I only wish Charles Hazelwood could have been there to enjoy their triumph.

Although possibly “enjoy” is not the right word when faced with such a dark, difficult and desolate work, as Steve Dummer put it so eloquently as he talked us through the political setting and the programmatic content. It was certainly enthralling, and the players did a magnificent job of propelling us through the bleak wasteland of repression, the sudden glimpses of frenetic gaiety, the despair, the brutality and ultimately hope for a better future.

The amazingly co-ordinated fury of the second movement, the “circus crossed with a firing squad” burlesque in the third, some most effective horn and woodwind solos plus terrific strings, brass and percussion – well, all I can say is that Horsham should justly be extremely proud of its symphony orchestra!

A triumph for all concerned

Review by David Briffett

14 March 2009

The Capitol, Horsham

Soprano Gillian Ramm

Conductor Steve Dummer

In my last review I had suggested that audiences might appreciate some rapport with HSO conductor Stephen Dummer. He took up the idea with a vengeance on Saturday giving us a virtual masterclass on Mozart and Mahler and the workings of the violin, ancient and modern, whilst even the classy soloist, Australian born soprano Gillian Ramm, was persuaded to introduce her own pieces. We learned too how the orchestra is receiving coaching from the world renowned Hanover Band.

Their words added greatly to an evening which surely goes down as one of the most inspiring that Horsham Symphony Orchestra have yet produced. It began with a very confident performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni overture, evoking all the drama of that great opera, swiftly followed by an aria from the same opera performed by the glamorous and highly competent Miss Ramm. This was followed by two more beautifully sung Mozart arias, a rarely heard love song from Zaide and a more striking piece from Cosi fan tutte in which Miss Ramm was at her most expressive. It is difficult to imagine anything able to eclipse Mozart. However, Mahler's Symphony No.4 in G, which took up the second half, did just that. The conductor talked of Mahler being "long, dull and depressing" but HSO's terrific performance of this intricate and difficult piece proved to be a most uplifting experience. Drawn from a collection of poems about peasantry, love, the military and faith, this hour long adventure is full of enchanting and mystical sounds. The kaleidoscopic first movement was at times electrifying and for me the highlight of the evening. The delightful second movement was charmingly melodic whilst the long third movement was simply spellbinding.

The final movement depicted a child's version of heaven with Gilliam Ramm joining the orchestra for a gentle song that evolved into a peaceful and exquisite finish.

The Mahler was first performed in 1901 and was being heard at The Capitol for the very first time, a real treat for all who were privileged to be there. A triumph for all concerned.

What a splendid evening this was

Review by David Briffett

22 November 2008

The Capitol, Horsham

Cellist Oliver Coates

Conductor Steve Dummer

What a splendid evening this was: a fascinating contemporary piece, the warming sounds of a familiar Schubert theme, crowned by a finale in the hands of a highly talented young master of the cello.

The Horsham Symphony Orchestra continues to give opportunity to the rich reserves of musical talent in our area, both young and not so, and under the baton of the dynamic Steve Dummer continue to take on great challenges and, above all, to entertain.

The programme began with the intriguing Paean composed by Sussex born Peter Copley and first performed in 1993, a piece designed to represent 'remorseless optimism'. It opens with very appealing pulsating rhythms followed by a more delicate episode in which woodwind and horns tackle some challenging work before returning to the original theme. The composer was there in person and took a well earned bow.

The orchestra was immediately comfortable with the familiar theme of Franz Schubert's Symphony No 8 in B Minor, the famous Unfinished Symphony, one of 1,000 works composed before his untimely death at 31.

Their handling of the first movement was very competent whilst the second was beautifully balanced, full of atmosphere, delicate passages interspersed by bursts of intensity.

The star of the night was unquestionably 26-year-old Oliver Coates, a high flying graduate of the Royal College of Music, a cellist in much demand. He missed part of the rehearsal because of a delayed train, however that did not detract one second from his consummate performance of Antonin Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor. A man at one with the instrument, Oliver showed that he is not just technically brilliant but has real feeling for the music. The orchestra was in fine form for all three movements of this inspirational work whilst Oliver touched great heights in his rendering of the adagio, especially the exquisite final section.

Our town is very fortunate to have the very accomplished Horsham Symphony Orchestra and the dedicated team behind it. Just one minor criticism: I think that audiences would appreciate some personal comments from the conductor either at the start or finish.

The programme notes are excellent, however a little more insight from the man in charge could work wonders.

The next programme in March promises some inspiring Mozart and Mahler.