The Bristol Ensemble

The Bristol Ensemble

Saturday 30th June, 7.30pm, St Mary's Church, Maldon

Haydn, Symphony No. 49 La Passione

Elgar, Serenade for Strings

Boyce, Symphony No. 4 in F

Creig, Holberg Suite

Mozart, Symphony No. 29 in A


The Bristol Ensemble is the city’s only professional orchestra, comprising a core of 25 musicians and a further 50 musicians, all experienced players in a range of musical genres. The Ensemble has flexible configurations, from a piano trio through to full symphony orchestra.


The orchestra holds a pivotal position in South West music, presenting a varied programme of concerts and events in the region’s major venues. It was founded in 1994 by its Artistic Director and lead violinist Roger Huckle. Roger studied with Frederick Grinke, and was a regular member of Norway’s Bergen Philharmonic. Roger now dedicates his time to directing and developing the Bristol Ensemble as well as spending time in Bergen, Norway.


The Ensemble has worked with outstanding international artists and soloists, including Dame Evelyn Glennie, Freddy Kempf, Peter Donohoe, Andrei Gavrilov, Chloë Hanslip, Matthew Barley, Alan Schiller, Willard White, Emma Kirkby, James Bowman, Andy Shephard, Wayne Marshall, Leslie Garrett, Emma Johnson, Natalia Lomeiko and Jiafeng Chen. The orchestra is known for collaborations with other art forms including film and media work, as well as its highly acclaimed contemporary music series Elektrostatic at the Colston Hall, working with artists such as Gabriel Prokofiev, Juice, Get The Blessing, Charles Johnston, USA group Eighth Blackbird and Bhangra group RSVP. Through Elektrostatic Bristol Ensemble has commissioned over 50 new works by British composers.


Film and TV engagements include music for BBC Bristol Natural History Unit and TV productions such as the David Attenborough series Life in Cold Blood. The Ensemble has also recorded soundtracks for several computer games, and produced several CDs. Among recent films, Any Human Heart won a BAFTA and an Ivor Novello award for best music score for Bristol composer Dan Jones.


Haydn composed his Symphony No. 49 in 1768. As with all the other titles that have become attached to Haydn’s symphonies, this did not originate with the composer himself. It was long believed that the nickname “La passione” or The Passion derived from the nature of the music itself: the slow opening movement of the sinfonia da chiesa, its minor key modality and its association with the Sturm und Drang period of Haydn’s symphonic output. Drawing from this traditional reading, H.C. Robbins Landon has described it as “dark-hued, somber–even tragic.”

However, the nickname can be traced back to a single source from a performance given during Holy Week in the Northern German city of Schwerin in 1790, where secular music was banned from performance between 1756 and 1785. This suggests that the name was derived circumstantially and not thematically and that reading the symphony as having a Passion-related motif is post-facto interpretation.

Elgar composed his Serenade for Strings in March 1892 and it first performed in private in that year, by the Worcester Ladies’ Orchestral Class, with the composer conducting. It received its first public performance in AntwerpBelgium on 21 July 1896. The Serenade is believed to be a reworking of a suite Elgar had written some years earlier, before he had firmly set his sights on a career as a composer. Apart from the two suites called The Wand of Youth, it is therefore probably the earliest of his compositions to survive into the standard repertoire. Certainly, it has a youthful charm while at the same time displaying indications of the skills Elgar developed as he progressed towards musical maturity. 


Composed to mark the 200th anniversary of Holberg’s birth, Grieg’s Holberg Suite opens with a sprightly, energetic Praeludium, followed by a more introspective Sarabande, a rather polite Gavotte, a stately Air and, finally, a boisterous Rigaudon. It was originally composed for piano – an instrument in front of which Grieg was always at home – but was later turned into an orchestral suite by the composer. It’s this arrangement that is by far the most often heard today.


First performed in its original piano version by Grieg himself at the Bergen Holberg celebration in December 1884, the work was very well received, which probably explains Grieg’s decision to transcribe it for orchestra so soon after. Although not so well known as his mighty Piano Concerto or the lyrical Peer Gynt Suites, this is supremely crafted music which drives home Grieg’s status as one of Europe’s most important Romantic composers.

Mozart was 18 when he composed his 29th symphony. Just think of that: 18, and he’d already composed 29 symphonies! It’s music that crystallises the young man’s emerging compositional self-confidence, and that shows him spreading his wings in symphonic music just as he had already started to do in the opera house and in his chamber music. It’s a work that sums up everything he had heard and learnt about symphonic form up to this point in his life (the influence of JC Bach was still crucial for him, whose music he had first heard as a child in London) but which is much more than the sum of those influences, and is something that only Mozart could have written. For not-quite-but-almost the first time, this is Mozart’s individual symphonic voice that you hear loudly and clearly. 

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