We found our socially distanced seats in the Lighthouse, with familiar faces difficult to find behind the masks. But as people settled, far fewer of us than usual, old friends were spotted and waved to; this was an audience who followed and were faithful to their orchestra, and had rushed back to support them at this first opportunity.

As Dougie Scarfe entered the auditorium, a hush fell, and he greeted us with a simple and heartfelt ‘welcome back’. The audience clapped their own fervently welcoming response, and he went on to tell us that this was the longest break from performing in the orchestras history, and that this was an evening to give a positive message.

Bournemouth Echo:

Picture ©Mark Allan

We already knew Kirill Karabits had been unable to join us due to Covid restrictions but were promised that he was watching the live stream, and sent his best wishes. Dougie Scarfe finished an emotional introduction with thanks to the audience: ‘Without you, we would not be here’.

David Hill, a hugely respected guest conductor whose appointments include musical director of the Bach choir, led off the program fittingly with the J S Bach ‘Eine feste Burg is unser Gott’, ‘a mighty fortress is our God’, a cantata familiar to any who have ever attended church services.

Bournemouth Echo:

Picture ©Mark Allan

Smooth, soothing, comforting, it nonetheless brought forth a wealth of sound from the orchestra, and served well to show that the new seating of the players had not diminished their strength.

From the resonance of the Bach, David Hill led us on to ‘The Unanswered Question ‘ by Charles Ives, a background of slow quiet strings representing the silence of the Druids, with the attempts at the answer to the question provided by the flutes, becoming more dissonant in frustration as the piece progresses. The unearthly quality pierced the ears, and the conductor kept in total control as the strings persisted on their very slow, quiet, drawn out theme.

Mahler followed, with ‘What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell me’, the second movement of his Symphony No 3, a peaceful piece full of gaiety, with a full sound and serving to prove that though the players were sitting far apart they were still very much together. Having reached this far in the program, the music driving them on, the orchestra seemed to relax and started to look as if they were enjoying themselves. And in the auditorium despite the unusual seating and the space, the audience were also relaxing into the wonderful music.

The acoustics were as good as ever, and there was no diminution of the quality of the sound.

Due to the covid-19 restrictions, there was no interval, so only too soon we reached the final piece, Beethoven, Symphony No 7. At the premiere performance in Vienna Beethoven, who conducted, remarked that it was one of his best works, and it never disappoints over 200 years later, with its intensity and power. The orchestra brought out the full ebullience and optimism of the work, playing at full tilt, amply reinforcing Dougie Scarfe’s message at the start that this would be a concert with a positive message.

Once the last note was played, and the David Hill turned to face us, the audience gave their orchestra a standing ovation, an outpouring of appreciation, calling loudly for more, and really showing how much they had missed them.

This, their first night back playing for us after this long break was a truly wonderful and emotional evening with our BSO, demonstrating how much this orchestra means and how it is needed more than ever during these unprecedented times.

And as one of the audience said as we left ‘it is so good to be back’.

Lesley Dedman