Photography: Brian Roberts /

Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra


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Liverpool Philharmonic’s end of June offering serves up an evening of ruthless neo-classicism from Stravinsky, Ravel and Prokofiev. Despite the conceptual strand throughout the programme being neo-classicism, by the end of the concert ‘contrast’ becomes the word to summarise the evening. But first, we delve straight into the deep end with the ominous and quirky brass chirpings of Stravinsky’s Octet. Within the scope of the evening, the piece marks itself as a more intense and agile take on the neo-classical tradition. However, the intense interplay of brass motifs beckoning the galactic presence of John Williams isn’t all that Stravinsky has to offer for the evening. For every wide and dense climactic section, come thinner and more intimate sections hinting at the sombre moments to come.

This is largely owing to the impactful premiere of DANI HOWARD’S trombone concerto, which relentlessly alienates itself from the rest of the neo-classical musings, but by doing so it becomes the emotional peak of the evening. It achieves this by offering a three-movement depiction of the last 18 months we’ve all had to endure: Realisation, Rumination, and Illumination, Dani explains in an interview with conductor DOMINGO HINDOYAN, included in the on-demand package of the concert. Dani focuses purely on the psychological impact of isolation, with the reflective pool of rich sighing string motifs and PETER MOORE’S trombone calling each spectator to a personal memory from the past troubled year. The three movements outline a deeply personal journey for Dani, but its consistently vague and dreamy nature allows the composition to resonate with anyone who hears it. Like a Symbolist piece, it makes the isolation of lockdown its object, a stroke of ambiguity that in turn encapsulates the emotional journey of every musician and concert goer enduring the tides of isolation. The ever-increasing intensity throughout each of the movements until the climactic close of the final movement, brilliantly displays the desire for release we’ve all been anticipating, and it’s only fitting we hear this piece now just as we might be getting it.

This transitions nicely to the serene woodwind swirls that glide us into Ravel’s Le Tombeau De Couperin. This is a piece born out of its own darkened time, as each movement is dedicated to a friend of Ravel who died during the First World War. Despite being very much a part of the neo-classical tradition, in the context of the evening, the piece stands as a sibling to Howard’s trombone concerto, as side by side they are connected through their comparatively subtle approach and meditative effect. Such dreamy and reflective music could have risked drifting off into the deepest moments of lockdown isolation, but as Liverpool slowly but surely makes its way back to normal, the contrast between the resurfaced casual chaos of our everyday lives and the reflective music at the centre of the evening, starts to make its true impact and meaning realised. The meditative and calming effect takes us out of our stressful lives and brings us to a still and personal place that exists only within ourselves, and as the world continues to open up, the strength of such cathartic and introspective orchestral works will be further revealed.

To complete the cycle of neo-classicism though, we find ourselves back in the deep end, with the grandiose finisher that is Prokofiev’s first symphony Classical. Short and sweet as symphonies go, but by maintaining the animated flourishes of orchestral interplay consistently throughout, the piece certainly puts a strong bow on the entire proceedings. We’re left then with the consistent theme of neo-classicism, strongly imprinted in the intro and outro, but with a core of comparatively pensive but cathartic orchestrations that effortlessly reflect the audience’s lockdown journey back at them.

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