The Ciconia Consort, founded in 2012, is a relatively small and charming string orchestra based in The Hague. Led by conductor and artistic director Dick van Gasteren, the Consort presents five concert programmes each season in The Hague and also appearing at a number of different concert venues throughout the Netherlands.
With a title as self-evident as Brexit Rules the Waves, it was no surprise that the concert would be featuring works composed, or influenced, by British composers. Rather than taking a broad approach to the UK/EU relationship, the programme instead investigated the cultural bond between the UK and mainland Europe by homing in on the artistic back and forth between the United Kingdom and France. The accompanying programme notes introduced this idea nicely with a heartfelt text commenting on the undeniable cultural bond felt throughout Europe:
“Although the Brexit negotiations on the secession of England are in full swing, today you hear that England is culturally inseparable from the European continent.”
Set in the intimate Hertz room of TivoliVredenburg, the concert began with the six-movement Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock. With the audience immediately drawn in by the warm and homogenous string sound, the orchestra was thoroughly welcoming and engaging, inviting audience members to be immersed from the very beginning. The opening movement of the Capriol Suite injected an enormous sense of fun into the room, boldly setting the scene for other movements to follow.
The brief nature of these movements demanded quick and convincing character changes from the orchestra – character changes which were immediate and fully persuasive. Although the endings of movements were somewhat dismissed, with silences not fully lived, the diversity of sound and colour produced by the orchestra allowed these Renaissance-style dances to be fully animated, radiating life and enjoyment.
Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations is a song cycle written in 1939 for either soprano or tenor soloist, setting verse and prose poems written by Arthur Rimbaud between 1872 and 1873. The Britten was undoubtedly the star of the show with Peter Gijsbertsen bringing each movement to life, performing with natural charm and involvement whilst connecting with the audience in a deeply relatable fashion. Throughout each movement, the storytelling remained immersive, with Gijsbertsen gently guiding the audience through musical ideas with modest ease. The expressive and natural interpretation from the soloist was both supported and complemented by the orchestra and it became evident that the two forces shared the same artistic vision as articulations became increasingly well matched and the sound more unified.
The poetic thread continued on into the next piece of the concert, solidifying the theme and direction of the programme. Britten’s take on French poetry was answered nicely with Gerald Finzi’s Dies Natalis, Opus 8. Dies Natalis is a five-movement cantata featuring four texts by seventeenth-century poet, Thomas Traherne.
It was somewhat surprising that only two of the five movements were performed (as the programme stated otherwise) but overall this did very little to affect the experience. Again, the expression was natural and emotive and the text was clearly understandable. The juxtaposing of light and dark was effortlessly highlighted by all involved with musical intent extremely well communicated to the audience.
The programme ended with as much energy as it began. With Peter Gijsbertsen leaving the stage, the orchestra finished with Jacques Casterede, Symphonie pour Orchestre a Cordes. Bursting with energy and anticipation, the orchestra had a slight tendency to run away with some of the more agitated themes. However, any instability was more than outweighed by the excitement, anticipation and undeniable sense of fun.
With a strong theme, interesting programme and a communicative body of musicians, this concert was extremely enjoyable – and noticeably well received by the audience. Rebecca Jansen 27th April 2018
Photograph courtesy of and © Anita Pantus