If you want your Sibelius served up with verve, passion and fresh richness then get a charismatic young Finn to conduct it. Ross Jamie Collins doesn’t look, to borrow a cliché, old enough to have left school, and actually that’s almost the case. He is 20.
Born in Nottingham in 2002 he has been living in Helsinki since 2008 and describes himself as Finnish-British. He is a Salonen scholar and studies with Esa-Pekka Salonen. And he’s a force to be reckoned with.
In this performance of Symphony No 2 I loved his management of the intersectional dialogue in the Allegretto and the beautiful pianissimo timpani work. In the andante he made the pizzicato section at the beginning sound more mysteriously dramatic than I’ve ever heard it and by the time he reached the trademark Sibelius grandiloquence at the end of the movement he was literally jumping for joy although in general he’s a self assured but not flamboyant conductor.
The Vivacissimo is one of those “good luck and see you at the end” movments played here with crisp dexterity before the beautiful oboe melody is gradually picked up and developed. And, my word, how Collins milked the rallentando transition into the Finale – and brought it off in spades. This is a young man who clearly loves Sibelius and inspires everyone around him because the Philharmonia played the whole symphony with panache.
At the end of the symphony at one point the orchestra – some of whose members are thirty or forty years older than Collins – refused to stand at his behest because they wanted him to take more credit from the audience which was giving huge amounts of enthusiastic applause. It was a moving moment.
Before the interval Randall Goosby played the Mendelssohn E minor violin concerto, standing very close to Collins with lots of eye contact so that we had a strong sense of two young men duetting. He brought effortless warmth to the first movement especially in the colourful cross string work and dramatically paused harmonics. I loved the gently graceful segue into the andante which he played with all the lyricism it needs before he brought delightful lightness to the third movement. He is a performer who smiles a lot – clearly relishing the sheer loveliness of what he’s doing.
I often reflect that the encore tradition in concerts is an odd one: a bit like playing the title role in King Lear and then being expected to drop in a bit of Alan Bennett at curtain call. On this occasion Goosby rose to the versatility challenge admirably and played Louisiana Blues Strut by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. With its slides, double stopping, and blues-y swing rhythms it was a perfect choice for a young, black American – and about as far from Mendelssohn as could be, in every sense.
The concert opened with Carl Nielsen’s very programmatic Overture Helios, a familiar piece from recordings but I’d never heard it live. Collins gave us immaculately pinpointed string work, starting small, his gestures growing larger as the sun and the piece reach their zenith. I admired the way he allowed the viola melody to sing as the sun finally sets.
I was forcibly struck that this reviewer is old enough to remember seeing Pierre Monteux. Adrian Boult, Antal Dorati and Otto Klemper conduct live. In front of me at the Marlowe Theatre was a boy of about eight watching Ross Jamie Collins. Decades hence, when Collins is a grand old man of music, that child will remember this concert and tell his grandchildren about it. I felt, in a strange way, as if my presence was a link between the music making of the 1960s with that of the 2060s.