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By the time we reached the encores some of the brass players had shifted over to play percussion, others had stripped off their jackets to form a rollicking band of drummers: a joyous scene that could only have hailed from Venezuela.
By now everybody must have heard about the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, which brings young people out of the slums to take up classical music. One question has been what happens to the astonishing number of excellent young players the country is producing afterwards: part of the answer was to be found here, as most of the 43 members of the Ensemble come out of the main Simón Bolívar orchestra.
A brass ensemble is meant to stun and this one did. Opening with the Gran fanfaria by Giancarlo Castro, one of the orchestra’s trumpeters, ensured a successful lift-off. Elgar Howarth’s arrangement of Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition showed off the players’ technical range: this serious showpiece is no easy challenge.
Under Thomas Clamor, formerly of the Berliner Philharmoniker and founder of the Ensemble, the playing was flecked with only the occasional doubtful tuning. To end, the Suite from Bernstein’s West Side Story turned up in high-volume, big band energy. As ever with the Venezuelans, the feelgood factor was as high as the decibel count.