Peebles Orchestra’s Spring Concert
By Claire R. Garnett MBE

MAGNIFICENT! Amazing! Brilliant! Impressive! Fabulous! Spectacular!

Words spoken by members of the audience as they left the Leckie Church last Saturday.

In fact, it was hard to find words to describe Peebles Orchestra’s Spring concert – a performance of Mendelssohn’s Oratorio, Elijah with not only the full symphony orchestra, but also a vast choir and four talented soloists, all held together and inspired by the baton of conductor Robert Dick.

The quality of this performance was wonderful – particularly as both orchestra and choir are made up of members of our community, brought together by their love of music.

The story of Elijah is certainly dramatic with many contrasting dynamics – for instance, the scene where the priests of Baal cry louder and louder in desperation for the sign from their false god which Elijah counters with a peaceful aria and a hymn from the chorus, for a sign from the true God.

There were many such scenes, the full sound of orchestra and choir filling the church with waves of sound, (difficult to imagine how many notes the strings played – they only had one break for a moving wind ensemble) reflecting the many changes of mood in Elijah’s story.

The four soloists were so expressive.

Ivor Klayman, baritone, as Elijah, moderated his fine voice and movements to embrace the prophet’s fluctuating moods – strongly berating the Israelites for their lack of faith – a tender and moving duet with the widow, (Michelle Sherridan-Grant soprano), whose child he had saved – this was truly operatic it was easy to forget it is an oratorio.

The other soloists, Chris Elliot, tenor, his voice in both camps, so well expressed and Marion Ramsay, contralto, (who you would never guess was a last-minute replacement) made such a lovely angel.

Each took various rolls, adapting their voices to the parts. All wonderfully talented and so musical.

Chris Elliott (tenor) said: “It was great singing with the orchestra again, and in the midst of such a wonderful and impressive weekend of music-making. It was an honour to be a part of it.”

The key was, of course, Robert Dick’s calm, confident direction from the rostrum – always in touch with every singer, every instrumentalist from the back row of the choir to the trombone corner, bringing the many parts together as an integrated, meaningful whole, interweaving the numerous elements with perfect balance.

Violinist Jane added: “We all said what a privilege it was to play such a good piece of music.

“Claire Taylor is a first-class leader, which makes such a difference.

“Robert pulled it all together so well – very particular about details and discipline, which makes rehearsals hard work, but in the end is most rewarding.

“It was so good to be able to play Elijah twice, with a repeat performance in Edinburgh. Feedback from the audience was all very positive.”

After a mighty storm of earthquake and fire on Mount Sinai the Lord appears to Elijah in a “still, small voice”, before the prophet ascends to heaven in a fiery chariot followed by the choir’s joyful hymn of praise.

Joyful indeed – what a performance!