RSNO Chan Conducts The Enigma Variations – Usher Hall

Elim Chan brought the Royal National Scottish Orchestra to another level… one that I did not know existed in the world of classical music!

Hong Kong’s Elim Chan is RSNO’s Principal Guest Conductor and I could not be happier – it is truly a great moment to see this young Asian conductor take the stand and lead with such skill, power, and elegance. From the moment Chan came onstage to introduce the first piece of the repertoire, Fung Lam’s ‘Endless Forms’, we were intrigued by her personality and graciousness. The piece reflected the cycle of life, drawing from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. RSNO always did interest me with the selection of repertoire but this was truly one of the highlights!

The orchestra has always previously performed with high skill, precision, and expression, however Chan has honestly brought out something unique in the musicians. The wonderfully thunderous moments of ‘Endless Forms’ were illuminated by her conducting, as the strings swell in a controlled but beautifully moving way and the percussion rumbled from the back of the stage. Every musician, with every note, listened intently not just to the music they are producing on their own, but to each other – it was truly refreshing.

Award-winning violinist Benjamin Beilman took the stage in the second piece, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor Op.47. His virtuosic practice at the instrument is immediately evident through the intense solo violin opening, where he seemingly effortlessly, and expressively, performs a series of double/triple stops. As Chan continues to conduct only the orchestra, she delicately balances their sounds as to not overwhelm or underwhelm the dramatic energy of Beilman’s playing. All the musicians onstage clearly understood and embodied the thunderous, nostalgic element as the woodwinds pass melodies along to Beilman, who continues to display immense precision and virtuosity. He even surprises us with a recitative at the end! Even in a piece where a violinist is the centre and principle element, Chan allows both the orchestra and Beilman to shine, impressively at the same.

The final piece and the title of the concert (Elgar’s Engima Variations) showcases Chan’s proficient conducting skills, and also the orchestra’s sense of community that they’ve built. I haven’t been moved by music like this in a while – all groups of instruments shine and allow one another to shine! Through the 14 variations, the orchestra has effectively embodied Elgar’s friends (upon whom he based each variation). The instruments worked differently with each other in conveying the range of musical and personal characteristics in the variations – from tonal, lush swells, to staccato lighter textured passages. RSNO has always been brilliant, but I believe Chan’s gratitude towards the orchestra has encouraged each musician to build a warm community that is reflected in their art. Together, they command silence as well as they shape music.

PHOTOS: Usher Hall website, Benjamin Beilman website

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