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Classical special: Seaside symphonies

PUBLISHED: 16:17 30 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:39 29 October 2010

Lothar Zagrosek

Lothar Zagrosek

Tony Cooper

There couldn't be a grander setting for the Symphonies of the Sea than Great Yarmouth's Hippodrome. As the concert series prepares to get the royal seal of approval, TONY COOPER previews it.

There couldn't be a grander setting for the Symphonies of the Sea than Great Yarmouth's Hippodrome. As the concert series prepares to get the royal seal of approval, TONY COOPER previews it.

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Great Yarmouth's Hippodrome Circus will next week greet what is believed to be the first royal visitor in its 105-year history.

The Duke of Kent will be in the audience for the second in a series of classical music concerts - the so-called Symphonies of the Sea - at the venue on Wednesday on to see world-renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber play alongside the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Valery Poliansky.

Joe Mackintosh, director of SeaChange Arts, which has organised the concert series, said: “This is fantastic news. After the success of the visit to the town by the Princess Royal earlier this year, a second royal visit is a real coup and we're delighted that this is happening during the King John Charter 800th anniversary celebrations.”

Hippodrome owner Peter Jay said: “I am absolutely delighted. I am not aware of any members of the royal family coming to the Hippodrome before.”

The visit by the Duke of Kent was arranged by the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, Richard Jewson, who was impressed by the inaugural concert.

In a letter to SeaChange, he wrote: “The acoustics in the Hippodrome are brilliant and I was so glad to have seen an iconic building not known to me. It is so important that Yarmouth's cultural life advances with its economic progress.”

The concert series revives a tradition of orchestras playing at the Hippodrome in the 1960s and 1970s. Renowned for its crystal-clear acoustics, the building received high praise from the international pianist John Lill, who played with the Munich KlangVerwaltung Orchestra in the inaugural concert last November.

Tickets have sold much faster for this second concert. “The first concert went OK, but it deserved better sales,” said Jay. “I think it may have been affected by the fact John Lill had recently played in the area.”

The star name of award-winning cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber may have helped. He will be the soloist with the Russian State, and play Elgar's immortal cello concerto.

Austrian-born Ernst Kovacik will play Beethoven's violin concerto with the Berlin Symphony under Lothar Zagrosek in the final concert of the series on March 15.

Maestro Zagrosek is no stranger to Norfolk. He toured with Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1984 conducting Mozart's Così fan tutte at the Theatre Royal.

“I was born near Salzburg on the German side,” he was quick to point out, “and my early musical influences found themselves, I think rightly, in Mozart. I've conducted most of his symphonies and operas. He's a composer that I just love. I remember at Glyndebourne I did Così in 1987, Seraglio (1988) and Magic Flute (1990). It's a pity, then, that no Mozart is on the bill for this Great Yarmouth concert.”

He is looking forward to the orchestra's English tour that will also take in dates at London's Cadogan Hall as well as other key provincial dates in Nottingham, Hull and Sheffield.

“What I love about England is its cathedrals,” he said. “I remember that Norwich has a particular imposing one which I hope I can find time to visit. But if I miss out I hope that there'll be another occasion.” Perhaps a visit to St Nicholas' Church in Yarmouth would be a better bet?

Zagrosek also waxes lyrical about British orchestras. “London orchestras are very good and work to a high and exacting standard. I'm impressed, too, by the contemporary work that the London Sinfonietta does. It's terribly important that contemporary music is played alongside main repertoire works.”

Contemporary music, however, doesn't get a look in at Yarmouth. Not yet, anyway. The Russian State will complete their programme with Rimsky Korsakov's exciting Russian Easter Festival Overture and Tchaikovsky's wonderful Pathétique symphony while the Berlin Symphony comes up with a surprise with Haydn's Surprise symphony and Mendelssohn's ever-popular Italian symphony.

It is quite a coup in getting the Berlin Symphony to Yarmouth. Known up to 2006 as the Konzerthausorchester Berlin it was founded in 1952 and has had seven principal conductors including the likes of Kurt Sanderling and Günther Herbig with Maestro Zagrosek - who began his musical career as a member of the Regensburg cathedral choir - taking up his post with the name change in 2006.

He has also worked at the state operas of Vienna and Hamburg as well as at the Bavarian State Opera, Munich, the Deutsche Opera, Berlin, Theatre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels and the Royal Opera House, London.

He is looking forward to his date at the Hippodrome in what must be the most unusual performance space he has ever worked in. “I looked up the venue on the web and found out about the building being built specifically for the performance of circus and variety acts. It should prove interesting. If the acoustics are good, why not use it for concerts.”

Joe Mackintosh adds: “Things have gone surprisingly well and it has been no mean feat getting this inaugural series off the ground. It just shows that the people of Great Yarmouth and the wider area are keen to see concerts at the Hippodrome. It's a comfortable venue with perfect viewing from any seat and, of course, the acoustics speak for themselves. People who came to the first concert soon picked up on how good they were.'

Three extra concerts have already been pencilled in, two for autumn next year, including a performance by the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra and one in the spring of 2010.

t Symphonies of the Sea concert tickets £27.50/£25.50 (£26.50 cons), 01493 844172 or from the Theatre Royal box office, 01603 630000. www.hippodromecircus.co.uk, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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