Saw Rohan de Saram perform with the Symphony Orchestra last night at Ananda College’s Kularatne Hall. Conducted by Ajit Abeysekera, the Orchestra comprised around fifty plus musicians on violins, violas, cellos, bass, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, saxophones, horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba and timpani.

The programme began with the ‘Overture to Oberon’, composed by C.M. von Weber (1786 – 1826) and described as having “….a magical horn call opening ….suggestive of the fairy-world…..gives way to a work of great buoyancy and energy”. In the view of someone who is by no means a specialist critic of classical music, but who does listen and appreciate it, I found the orchestra to be pretty good in patches – but never able to sustain the quality it did reach on rare occasions. The string sections were valiantly led by Ananda Dabare, but alas, it was virtually a lost cause.

Rohan’s entrance was like a breath of fresh air as he eased into Tchaikovsky’s ‘Variations on a Roccoco Theme, Op. 33, for Cello and Orchestra’. Once again it was a valiant effort on the part of Ajit Abeysekera and his players, but the support was hardly what should have been there for a virtuoso Cellist like Rohan de Saram.

A brief review from one of many pages on Rohan on the net: “Rohan de Saram began studying the violoncello at the age of 12 with Gaspar Cassado at the Accademia Chigiana and with Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico. Among other prizes, he was honoured with the prestigious Suggia Award. As a soloist, he has played throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and the Soviet Union with the major orchestras and leading conductors of the world. More recently Rohan has become increasingly involved in the performance of contemporary music over the years and has worked personally with a number of leading contemporary composers.

Other than solo recitals, he performs new repertoire in duo concerts with Garth Knox in such prominent venues as the Ars Musica Festival Brussels, the Traiettore Festival in Parma and the Saarlandischer Rundfunk. He has also made a special study of the drum rhythms and melodies of Sri Lanka”. There’s tons more stuff on him but time and space will not permit here and now!

An interval followed Tchaikovsky and after the audience was seated for the second half of the programme, the conductor, Ajit Abeysekera made an announcement that due to numerous requests Rohan had agreed to perform a solo piece. Loud applause resulted from this, accompanied no doubt, by many heaved sighs of relief!

Rohan announced that he would play part of a half-hour long work by the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly (1882 – 1967), who was, amongst his other musical achievements, also a PhD in philosophy and linguistics. It is also said that “Kodály made a considerable contribution to chamber music also: notably a virtuosic sonata for unaccompanied cello, and a half-hour-long Duo for cello and violin”.

I’m not certain of the title of the solo for Cello that Rohan played, but it was a masterful display of his technique. The music itself was notable for its dissonant chord structure and broken rhythms and I got totally carried away with it. Unfortunately all too soon it came to an end and was followed by the Symphony Orchestra performing four movements of Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 Eroica’.

The brass section killed what little there was to appreciate and really, no excuses are acceptable. We are all aware under what tremendous odds against which this group of musicians must work to stay together and perform classical compositions and the effort is admirable and the results – well, commendable in a relative kinda way. But …what can one say? To get an orchestra consisting of top-class musicians of the calibre that could accompany a sublime Cellist, is a big ask in this country.

And that is the pity of it all.

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