“She struck me, indeed, as a rare example of a young conductor at once brilliant and not in the least showing off.”

11th March 2020 | By: Paul Driver
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There isn’t perhaps much to say about a conductor’s podium manner. What really matters is the musical result, because “the ear”, as Schoenberg asserted, “is the musician’s sole brain”, and we all should try to be a musician when attending a concert. Yet conductors vary enormously in their baton or their no-baton style and, confronted the whole time by a physical individuality or mannerism, we inevitably start to assume this is linked to the architecture of the piece.

This phenomenon was borne in on me when I attended a pair of concerts by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the Finn Osmo Vanksa at the Royal Festival Hall and, on the evening between, another by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the young Hong Kong-British Elim Chan at the Barbican.

Chan is a relative newcomer, having won the Donatella Flick LSO conducting competition in 2014 and been the orchestra’s assistant conductor for the 2015-16 season; she has done impressively on the world stage since. Vanska, on the other hand, is a long-established maestro, valued for his readings of Sibelius scores and much besides. Yet it was Chan who seemed to have the elegant, precise, natural and unassumingly effective technique. She struck me, indeed, as a rare example of a young conductor at once brilliant and not in the least showing off.

Quietly devastating in her meticulousness, she gave us marvellously paced and phrased accounts of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No 2 and — with the superb soloist Lukas Vondracek — of Rachmaninov’s Concerto No 3 (what a heart-warming, flaring tutti climax to the finale). And one couldn’t but think her subtle management of textures played a decisive part in the positive impression made by two premieres. The first, James Albany Hoyle’s brief but exploratory Thymiaterion (2020) followed by the American Elizabeth Ogonek’s All These Lighted Things (2017), subtitled “three little dances for orchestra” — notable among its telling ploys an atmospheric use of divided strings in the “gentle drifting” middle movement, the most static of dances.

Source: Sunday 8th March, 2020, The Sunday Times