BBCNOW/Bancroft review – panache, poignancy and a howl of protest

Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff/Radio 3
Ryan Bancroft’s first concert as principal conductor packed an emotional punch with a suite of American classics and a fierce new commission by Gavin Higgins

‘I’m just happy to be making music in the first place,” Ryan Bancroft told the BBC’s Nicola Heywood Thomas during a pause in his Prom with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Bancroft’s first concert as the BBCNOW’s principal conductor (his appointment was announced last year) was also the orchestra’s first since lockdown, and the first Prom to be streamed from Cardiff. You couldn’t help but sense the musicians’ relief at being back on the Hoddinott Hall platform.

An energetic yet graceful conductor, Bancroft, who was born in California, opted for a programme of mostly American music for small forces, though he opened with Martinů’s eclectic Jazz Suite. The concert’s centrepiece was the world premiere of Rough Voices by Gavin Higgins, the BBCNOW’s new composer in association. The Martinů, heavily indebted to Stravinsky, Ravel and Milhaud, sounded svelte and suitably chic. Rough Voices, commissioned as a response to Covid-19, is grieving, fierce and dissonant, a howl of protest at how the pandemic has disproportionately affected the poorest in society – “a rallying call for the underclasses” as Higgins describes it.

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