Proms at Sage Gateshead: Missy Mazzoli, Mozart and Brahms

Missy Mazzoli
Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor
Johannes Brahms
Symphony No. 2 in D major

Kristian Bezuidenhout

Royal Northern Sinfonia

Dinis Sousa

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 22 July, 2023
Venue: Sage Gateshead, Sage One

The third instalment of the BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead transported us to a realm of traditional splendour, as Radio 3’s Tom McKinney adeptly steered the musical voyage with finesse, insight and enthusiasm. Departing from the more popular inclinations of prior concerts, the evening embraced the timeless triad of overture, concerto, and symphony, drawing the audience into a world of enduring melodies and masterful orchestration.

The Royal Northern Sinfonia, gracing the stage once again under the baton of their Principal Conductor Dinis Sousa. Placing the violins antiphonally, while positioning the violas and cellos at the centre and facing outward, yielded a welcome sonic interplay throughout, but most palpable during the mesmerizing opening bars of Missy Mazzoli’s “Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres)” – in her 2016 revision that exudes an air of celestial mystique.

Mazzoli’s Sinfonia, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of their Green Umbrella music series, is a characteristally fascinating departure from the Minimalist genre, as Mazzoli’s composition pushes the boundaries harmonically and rhythmically. The music drifts effortlessly between tonal regions, evoking an enticing sense of tonal ambiguity without embracing outright dissonance. Its accessibility, coupled with Mazzoli’s mastery in wielding the orchestra’s palette of colours, ensured a captivating journey.

The evening’s centrepiece, Mozart’s darkly brooding Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, unfolded with intriguing contrasts. Soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, acclaimed for his virtuosic forays into Mozart’s keyboard repertoire, regaled us with an interpretation of pronounced romantic ardour. Adorned with expressive tenuto and rubato, Bezuidenhout’s delivery occasionally veered towards the extravagant, eliciting both admiration and reservation. Nevertheless, his symbiosis with the Royal Northern Sinfonia lent the third movement a rip-roaring tempo, whisking us along a whirlwind of effervescent jubilation.

Guided by Sousa’s baton, the Royal Northern Sinfonia took on Brahms’s lyrical Second Symphony with fervent dedication. Initiated by a few tentative steps, the orchestra soon found their footing, embarking on an impassioned and overtly romantic journey. Echoes of Wagner and Elgar imbued the performance, drawing attention to Brahms’s disparate influences. Throughout the symphony’s tapestry, countermelodies were rendered with clarity and an alluring aura, resonating with Elgar’s emotive profundity in the second movement.

As the concert reached its conclusion – an effusive hug for the orchestra’s leader, Maria Wløszczowska, and a moment of unity as conductor and musicians took their synchronized bows, culminating in rapturous applause from the captivated audience.

This third concert of the BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead was an enthralling embrace of tradition, guided by Tom McKinney. The Royal Northern Sinfonia, under the baton of Dinis Sousa, displayed musical prowess in navigating a diverse repertoire. From the otherworldly allure of Mazzoli’s Sinfonia to the fervent romanticism of Mozart and Brahms, the evening left an indelible imprint.

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