Skip to main content
Read, Watch & Listen

Royal Northern Sinfonia: Online Concert Programme | Thu 22 February 2024

A person conducting an orchestra. There is also text that reads

Bristol Beacon presents 

Royal Northern Sinfonia with Dinis Sousa

Thu 22 February 2024, 7.30pm

This evening’s performance:

Dinis Sousa Conductor
Julian Bliss Clarinet
Royal Northern Sinfonia

Prokofiev Classical Symphony
Mozart Clarinet Concerto
Beethoven Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’



Welcome to Bristol Beacon and to our 2023/24 Reopening Orchestral Season, bringing symphonic orchestral music back home to Bristol. Whether this is your first experience of live orchestral music or your one hundred and first, I hope you can take this opportunity to sit back, relax and let the music pull you in. We are proud that the improved acoustics and 21st century levels of audience comfort, access and stage technology in the transformed Beacon Hall are now worthy of the world-class musicians you will see on stage.

This season we are delighted to welcome back many great orchestras, some celebrating their own milestones, and all playing some of the world’s greatest and best-loved classical works. We also have three brand new pieces of music to look forward to across the season, so please enjoy delving into all of the thrilling music on offer.

Have a wonderful evening and do come back soon.

Louise Mitchell CBE
Chief Executive, Bristol Beacon

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953): Classical Symphony

1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Gavotte: non troppo allegro
4. Finale: molto vivace

Sergei Prokofiev’s music earns its place in history from his remarkable talent for enhancing traditional structures with an irony and wit that was very much of the 20th century. He advanced the frontiers of Russian music, but the Classical period was at the bedrock of his endeavours.

As a child, his mother’s playing of Beethoven’s sonatas made a lasting impression, and later, as a student in Nikolay Tcherepin’s conducting class at the St Petersburg Conservatory, he gradually developed a fondness for the scores of Haydn and Mozart.

He wrote in a memoir: ‘It seemed to me that, if Haydn had lived into our time, he would have preserved his own style of writing and at the same time absorbed something from the new music’.

The Classical Symphony, composed between 1916 and 1917, is a miniature triumph in the way it manages to combine the old and the new music in a witty and unpretentious work condensed into less than a quarter of an hour. He chose the title ‘Classical’ to ‘tease the geese’, as he put it, of the establishment.

The opening Allegro is brisk and breezy and short on Classical dignity, soon leading into a mock-serious passage in which the bassoon joins hands with the first violins for a quiet little tune that wouldn’t be out of place in a circus ring. If Haydn had been alive he would have been delighted by the irreverence of it all.

The Larghetto opens more gracefully and offers a haunting melody on high strings. The winds and pizzicato strings keep the rhythm flowing in the middle section then are joined by the full orchestra before the strings’ theme returns, is developed and then subsides.

In the third movement Prokofiev has fun with the Classical Gavotte, which here takes on a slightly tipsy lilt with its just-too-deliberate steps. There’s a brief contrast in the middle with a Russian musette tune before the dance resumes quietly on the winds and is gently laid to rest by the strings.

The Finale sweeps along at a relentless pace, and Prokofiev here excels himself, linking Classical themes in what at times becomes a joyful hoe-down.

© Richard C. Yates

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Clarinet Concerto in A

1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Rondo: Allegro

Despite the many setbacks in his life – in particular, failed expectations of court posts that would have offered some stability to his composing career and relief from the miserable poverty he and his wife Constanza had to endure – Mozart was not one to allow wretched circumstances to intrude into his music.

The Clarinet Concerto in A belongs to that incredibly creative last year of Mozart’s life and is perhaps the most inventive and emotionally moving piece ever written for the instrument. The fact that less than two months after it was composed Mozart was dead, aged 35, adds poignancy to this beautiful music – encouraged by the tender melancholy of the Adagio middle movement – but the concerto in its entirety is a life-affirming work and a wonderful example of how this young master-craftsman was able to combine the forces of soloist and orchestra in a way that enhanced each other’s playing.

Mozart fell head over heels for the clarinet, which was a relative newcomer to the orchestra. He first expressed his love of the instrument in a letter to his father, Leopold, in Salzburg after hearing it played in Mannheim in 1778.

“Oh, if only we had clarinets!” he wrote. “You can’t guess the lordly effect of a symphony with flutes, oboes and clarinets”.

Mozart was immediately hooked, using the instrument from that point on in his symphonies, concertos, wind serenades and operas whenever the instrumental resources were available.

The Concerto in A was composed for his friend Anton Stadler, an impressively talented and much acclaimed Austrian musician who was at this time experimenting with what is now known as the basset clarinet. This involved an extension to the traditional clarinet which added lower notes to its register. Mozart started out by writing the concerto for the basset horn, but was persuaded by Stadler to rework it for his new-fangled instrument.

The eventual publisher, understandably wanting to flog lots of sheet music, had it adapted for the clarinet in its more typical and accessible form, and this is the version usually performed today. The original manuscript tailored to Stadler’s requirements is lost, but the horn version survives and gives clues as to how Mozart intended the basset clarinet work should sound.

As the Clarinet Concerto opens, the orchestra takes centre-stage with a cheerful and rhythmic Allegro introduction. The clarinet then picks up on this statement, entering with a melodious song which explores the instrument’s range, often contrasting high notes against low. As the movement develops it soon becomes clear this is no mere showcase for a virtuoso player – there’s a close partnership between soloist and orchestra, and the exchanges between them enhance the whole.

This harmonious relationship is extended in the sublime Adagio. It’s the turn of the clarinet to introduce the movement with its serene song, which is then delicately exchanged between the soloist and the other players.

In the lively concluding Rondo: Allegro movement the clarinet sweeps in with a playful country dance-like ditty – and the fascinating conversation continues!

© Richard C. Yates

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’

1. Allegro con brio
2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
3. Scherzo & Trio: Allegro vivace
4. Finale: Allegro molto

Beethoven surprised his musical world with the first symphony and outraged many with his inventive and expansive second. But no one was prepared for the earthquake that was to be his third. Critics howled it down as “lawless” and a “wild fantasia” – nevertheless, symphonies would never be the same again.

Apart from being almost double the length of the traditional symphony, here was a truly heroic Eroica, embarking on an epic orchestral adventure, introducing strange transitions, combinations of sounds and violent dissonances, and presenting dramatic material which proclaimed the artist’s faith in mankind and its aspirations. The ideals of democracy, equality and freedom were dear to Beethoven – and here, at last, he had found the vehicle with which to express them.

The inspiration had been Napoleon, but when his republican hero crowned himself emperor the disillusioned Beethoven furiously scratched Bonaparte Symphony from the title page, substituting “Eroica Symphony, composed in order to celebrate the memory of a great man”.

After the opening hammer-like blows from the orchestra the Allegro con brio exposition begins with a confident theme, but tensions soon arise and conflict within the orchestra explodes in a series of strident discordant notes before the exposition continues. A development section of what we’ve heard follows – again, not without a tussle within the orchestra – and here Beethoven brings in fresh material, only to build new variations upon it. Eventually, the confident opening theme returns and is resolved in a triumphant conclusion.

Violins, underlined by the basses, begin the slow funeral march, Marcia funebre. An oboe takes up the theme and the strings reinforce the melancholic melody. There is a short trio section that tries to inject some major-key cheer, but the march, occasionally interrupted by dramatic chords, treads onwards and ends in sighs of despair.

The sprightly Scherzo begins quietly on strings and woodwinds then builds up an energetic pace with the full orchestra, with pause only for a hunting theme for horns in the Trio.

The Finale opens boisterously before the basses tiptoe in for a tuneful dance with material Beethoven drew from his earlier ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. From this point, using music already expressed, Beethoven builds up an intricate but symmetrical sequence of variations which interchanges moods of drama, passion and heroic endurance, reaching its climax in a vigorous and triumphant coda.

© Richard C. Yates

Dinis Sousa

Dinis Sousa is Principal Conductor of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, a position he has held since April 2021. During his tenure the orchestra have performed at the BBC Proms twice, with soloists Kristian Bezuidenhout and Nicholas Daniel. During the 2023/24 season, they will present a complete cycle of Robert Schumann’s symphonies at The Glasshouse in addition to his choral masterpiece Das Paradies und die Peri. Other highlights include a world premiere by Cassandra Miller, collaborations with soloists Christian Tetzlaff, Steven Isserlis and Elizabeth Leonskaja and several performances around the UK including Birmingham and Cardiff.

During the 2023/24 season Dinis will make his debut at Carnegie Hall conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in two programmes of Bach and Handel, as part of a North American tour. This follows on from performances of Berlioz’s Les Troyens in 2023, including the Salzburg Festival, Berlin Festival and BBC Proms. This tour attracted exceptional critical acclaim; ‘Sousa was electrifying in moments of grandeur, high drama and emotional intensity’ (Guardian). Dinis is Associate Conductor of the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras. Previous highlights have included co-conducting the Monteverdi Choir in Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette at the BBC Proms, and conducting the English Baroque Soloists in Colombia.

This season Dinis will make his debut with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, as well as returning to Edmonton Symphony and the Riga Sinfonietta. Recent engagements have included the BBC Philharmonic, Gulbenkian and Ulster Orchestras. His operatic experience includes Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (Nevill Holt Opera) and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (Orquestra XXI).

Dinis is Founder and Artistic Director of Orquestra XXI, an award-winning orchestra which brings together some of the best young Portuguese musicians from around Europe to perform in the most prestigious venues in Portugal. Recent highlights include opening the Gulbenkian Foundation season and a critically acclaimed tour of Mahler’s Symphony No 5 to celebrate the orchestra’s 10th anniversary. In recognition of his work with Orquestra XXI, Dinis was awarded the title of Knight of the Order of Prince Henry in Portugal.

Julian Bliss

Julian Bliss is one of the world’s finest clarinettists, excelling as a concerto soloist, chamber musician, recitalist, jazz artist, and masterclass leader. As co-creator of his Conn-Selmer range of affordable clarinets under the Leblanc brand, he has inspired a generation of young players and introduced a substantial new audience to his instrument. Julian started playing the clarinet aged four and went on to study in the United States at the University of Indiana and in Germany under Sabine Meyer, turning professional aged just twelve.

In recital and chamber music he has played at most of the world’s leading festivals and halls, including Gstaad, New York’s Lincoln Center, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Verbier and London’s Wigmore Hall. As a soloist, he has appeared with a wide range of international orchestras, including the Auckland Philharmonia, BBC Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Chamber Orchestra of Paris, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sao Paolo Symphony and the Queensland Symphony.

This season, Bliss travels all around the UK with numerous performances of Mozart’s clarinet concerto, joining the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and Royal Northern Sinfonia. He joins the Yehudi Menuhin School as their first Artist in Residence for several projects including Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Elsewhere he gives a recital in Dubai, returns to festivals in Risor, East Neuk and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and gives further performances of a new concerto for Clarinet and Wind Orchestra, written for him by the eminent composer John Mackey, which he premiered with Dallas Winds last season.

Bliss ended last season with the Singapore Symphony and a return visit to Mondsee Festival in Austria. Other concerto highlights included Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and with London Mozart Players at Inner Temple Hall, London. He appeared at festivals across the UK in recital and chamber music with regular partners James Baillieu and the Carducci Quartet as well as many other colleagues.

Excellent reviews, record of the week spots and media attention flow from his recording output. He will be adding to his discography in 2024 with a number of new releases, including the new Mackey concerto. This follows previous releases on Signum Records in 2021 which included Brahms Clarinet Sonatas with pianist James Baillieu, and an EP of Julian’s arrangements for clarinet of wind ensemble works by legends of the US band world John Mackey, Frank Ticheli and Eric Whitacre. Other recent albums include Mozart and Weber Quintets with the Carducci String Quartet; Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock with Ailish Tynan (soprano) and Christopher Glynn (piano); Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint; Mozart and Nielsen’s Clarinet Concertos with the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

In 2010, Bliss established the Julian Bliss Septet, creating programmes inspired by the King of Swing, Benny Goodman, and a show built around the extraordinary musical output of George Gershwin. A recording of the Gershwin programme “I Got Rhythm” released in 2021 received rave reviews – “impressive recording by talented clarinettist Julian Bliss and his excellent Septet […] Bliss’s quick-fire clarinet starts weaving free-flowing improvisational lines around the tune from the very outset […] jaw-dropping, side-stepping vibes solo […] the whole ensemble is on fire” – Gramophone. The Septet has performed to packed houses across the US and in European festivals, at Ronnie Scott’s (London) and Live from Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York).

With the launch of Bliss Music in 2020, Julian’s arrangements of a selection of pieces for clarinet and piano have been made available as sheet music. These include Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata Op. 19, the third movement of which has been set as a Grade 6 piece on the new London College of Music clarinet syllabus.

Royal Northern Sinfonia

Royal Northern Sinfonia is the orchestra of the North East and Cumbria, based at The Glasshouse in Gateshead. They are the UK’s only full-time chamber orchestra – 37 incredible musicians coming together to play awe-inspiring classical music by the world’s greatest composers, old and new.

Since their first concert in 1958, Royal Northern Sinfonia have earned an exceptional reputation for vibrant, passionate music-making across the UK and beyond, representing the North East on a worldwide stage. In 2023, they headlined the first weekend-long BBC Proms festival to take place outside of London, travelled to South Korea for Tongyeong International Music Festival and became the resident orchestra in new concert series in Middlesbrough and Carlisle.

Royal Northern Sinfonia regularly collaborate with top conductors and classical stars, such as Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Benjamin Grosvenor and Dame Sarah Connolly, and have taken to the stage with pop legends Maximo Park, Sam Fender and Self Esteem. Highlights of the next year include a Schumann symphony cycle with Principal Conductor Dinis Sousa, a UK wide tour with clarinettist Julian Bliss, the Big Bruckner Weekend at The Glasshouse and guest appearances from Elisabeth Leonskaja, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Christian Tetzlaff, Jess Gillam, Angela Hewitt and Steven Isserlis.

Royal Northern Sinfonia are working hard to make classical music more accessible and more inclusive. That means playing in more places across the North than ever before, championing new artists and new music, and encouraging musicians of all ages and stages to keep growing their skills – from sitting side by side with The Glasshouse’s Young Sinfonia to partnering with the Royal Philharmonic Society to support women conductors.

The Royal Northern Sinfonia family also includes Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia, made up of over 80 singers from across the region who perform regularly with the orchestra and on their own, and RNS Moves, an inclusive ensemble of disabled and non-disabled musicians who create unique, ground-breaking interpretations of classical favourites and brand new sounds.

Orchestra Credits

Violin 1
Maria Włoszczowska
Kyra Humphreys
Iona Brown
Jess Graham
Jane Nossek
Sarah Roberts
Matthew Glossop
Jens Lynen

Violin 2
Eva Aronian
The Bucknill Chair
Haruno Sato
Sophie Appleton
Anthony Poon
Joonas Pekonen
Tom Grundy

Michael Gerrard
Malcolm Critten
James Slater
Tegwen Jones

Daniel Hammersley
James Craig
Gabriel Waite

Double Bass
Siân Hicks
The June and Vic Middleton Chair

Dave Johnson

Charlotte Ashton
Helena Gourd

Peter Facer
Michael O’Donnell

Cristina Mateo
Jessica Lee

Stephen Reay
Lawrence O’Donnell

Peter Francomb
Jonathan Quaintrell-Evans
Dave Tollington

Adam Wood
Marion Craig

Jude Carlton