The dust kicked up by Stamatia Karampini’s stomping Montagues and Capulets, ending yesterday’s grand finale concert of the Donatella Flick competition, has finally settled. But it has to be said that it was Alexandre Bloch’s performances that really brought the house down. I suspect none of the LSO players (three of whom, let’s not forget, were on the jury panel in any case) will have been surprised to learn that he is their new assistant conductor.
It may not have been clear to the audience that he conducted his part of the programme without scores. Now, I often wonder if this isn’t really just a piece of braggadocio and to be regarded with a cynical eye. I’m also sure that many conductors would jump down my throat and insist that if you can do it, it’s liberating, that being trapped with your eyes fixed to the music is a pain; that, anyway, if you do have a memory lapse, the orchestra won’t stop. I have to admit, in Bloch’s case, that it would be a shame if the chore of turning pages held him back.
He conducted Tybalt’s death scene from Romeo and Juliet – a relentless, high energy number – like one of those comic martial arts heroes, taking on assailants from all sides. There’s a fast passage of fearsome technical difficulty for violins, but rather than face them he turned his back to fight with the cellos and basses who are pommelling away, before spinning round just in time to bat down the gang of violinists when they lunge at him with a sudden crescendo. But in all the pieces he conducted, he just seemed to know where to look and when.
Just one memorable image from three days of intensive conductor-watching. Of the other finalists, I enjoyed Karampini’s habit of draping her left arm over the brass podium rail. It seemed to indicate someone who had made those couple of square metres her own space, someone whose response to a scary prospect is to be cool. And I enjoyed following the progress of Ben Gernon, the one conductor of the competition who I have actually played for so know personally. It was thrilling to see him be consistently good across all three days (the most consistent, I would say), and to show such a delicate touch in some of the music – not bad for a converted tuba player.
So that’s all from me at the 2012 Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition. And so many thanks, LSO, for inviting me to watch and report on all this, it really has been an engrossing three days. Most of all, I really want to play some viola now…
The official press release about Alexandre Bloch’s win can be found on the LSO website here: http://lso.co.uk/press-release-donatella-flick-lso-conducting-competition-2012
The competition will be broadcast on Classic FM on Monday 15 October at 8pm in the Full Works concert. Listen online at their website: http://www.classicfm.com/