Sounding for all the world like the latest App for a certainsmartphone, the I, Culture Orchestra is the youngest orchestra onthe planet – just seven concerts old.
In essence it’s the officialorchestra of the Polish presidency of the EU Council and yetanother instance of music in action across borders – namelyPoland’s neighbours to the east. But the issue is less abouttranscending social and political barriers and more about rewardingand encouraging the advance of music education in all corners ofthe globe. The I, Culture Orchestra is literally learning on itsfeet.
So definitely not the softly, softly approach – not when youlaunch yourself into the international public arena withProkofiev’s Scythian Suite. But, of course, it isn’t therazzle-dazzle of the music’s pagan excesses that really testsyoungsters like this but the shot-silk quietudes of the stringwriting – like the violas’ smoochy take on the roaring openingtheme halfway through the first tableau. they are, as yet,cautiously sensual, feeling their way not so much to the notes, butto the music beyond.
Pavel Kotla shared clear and precise direction with enthusiasmand the pairing of Szymanowski’s Symphony no 4 in the first half ofthe programme was not just symbolic geographically but a timely nodto the composer’s approaching centenary. This Szymanowski shareswith Prokofiev a heady folksiness with luxuriant textures, givingthe exultant themes ideas above their station. both works share anexotic nightscape, with Szymanowski fielding a glorious solo forthe orchestra’s Ukrainian leader. Peter Jablonski was the other keysoloist, his shimmering piano cadenzas growing like offshoots ofthe orchestral texture.
Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony brought an astonishingly sprightly89-year-old Neville Marriner to the platform – youth and experiencein heartening juxtaposition – and his unfussy, down-the-middleapproach to the piece was maybe just what these players needed inthis early stage of their corporate development. There is nothingmore challenging than the very particular phrasings inherent inthis music and the first movement’s rhythmic intricacy and dramaticway with tempo-rubato occasioned a few tentative turns and littleof the electricity which can rip the piece from the page. The I,Culture Orchestra has yet to find and assert its own identity.
But then again the orchestra was effectively born in Gdansk,home of Solidarity, and that’s got to be a good omen.