Into The Silence Explode the Fulltone Orchestra

A Classical Explosion at Marlborough College Chapel; a review

It’s been a long road and a wild ride since the Fulltone Orchestra burst on to the Wiltshire music scene with ‘Iconic Tunes – 2017’ at the Corn Exchange, Devizes. Back then conductor and musical director Anthony Brown said – ‘We are not your ordinary orchestra. I set it up to not only bring something a bit different, but with the view to thrill…’

The last time they played in Marlborough College Chapel was in February 2019, when they thrilled the audience with out of this world tunes from The Planets and Star Wars. In July of that year, they transformed the Market Place in Devizes into a riot of colour and sound, and in August of this year they pulled off what seemed at one point to be impossible post-Covid – a two-day festival of classical, house, and big band music on The Green in Devizes.

The Fulltone Orchestra is made up of professional and semi-professional musicians from all over the South-West, and since 2017 has increased in size to 60 – 65 players at any one time. It’s not only the size of the orchestra that has changed; under Anthony Brown’s direction they have become slicker, more skilled, and more able to play increasingly complex and ambitious pieces in accordance with his perfectionism and vision.

On Saturday (16th October 2021) they broke the sacred silence of Marlborough College Chapel with their Classical Explosion Concert, starting with Shostakovich’s Festival Overture, and from then on fireworks and heart strings all the way – Grieg’s ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’, ‘Finlandia’, Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’, ‘Scheherazade’, ‘Mambo!’ from West Side Story – the interval, and then – ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’, Holst, Debussy, ‘A Night On The Bare Mountain’ by Mussorgsky, and ’Suite from the Lord of the Rings’, finishing with the glorious (no cannons allowed in the chapel, though!) ‘1812 Overture’.

This concert was special – whilst the Fulltone Festival was a wonderfully eclectic celebration of music and community, this was a big step up on the classical quality scale. I’ve seen how hard this orchestra rehearse, and the hard work certainly paid off on Saturday. I loved principal violinist Chico Chakravorty’s sensitive and accomplished performance in ‘Scheherazade’ (one of my favourites), likewise Rebecca McGrath’s ethereal harp playing in the same piece. Michelle Krawiec’s flute solo in ‘Suite from the Lord of the Rings’ was magical. I enjoyed ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ (love a bit of percussion) and was surprised to experience what I can only describe as ‘a minor wobbler’ in reaction to the orchestra’s triumphant rendition of ‘Jupiter’.

There were so many surprising and mesmerising moments in this concert. Every time I looked down the dark vault of the Chapel the audience appeared to be transfixed, and after the 1812 Overture they rose as one and gave the orchestra a very well-deserved standing ovation.

I cried with delight and relief at the end, and I wasn’t the only one. The concert was quite simply a massive achievement. Even Tone looked like he had a tear in his eye, but that could of course have been a trick of the light. I had a conversation with a friend along the lines of – ‘That was actually amazing wasn’t it, wasn’t it? Was it?’ ‘Oh yes, yes it was!’, and we had a celebratory hug.

But when you’re emotionally invested in something and not very well musically educated you can never be quite sure of your ability to be objective, so after the concert I asked someone better informed and less emotional than me what they thought of the night.

‘It was enjoyable with a good selection of music’ they said, which believe me from some is praise indeed.

When I reviewed ‘A Night with Bernstein and Gershwin’ back in February 2018 I said that the orchestra were ‘not perfect by any means, but somehow really rather brilliant’. What’s changed since then? The orchestra are still imperfect (is any orchestra ever perfect?) but oh my goodness they are getting even more shiny and brilliant by the moment.

What I also said back then was ‘More, more, more from the Fulltone Orchestra over the next few years, please!’

There’s a lot more to come from this orchestra, and it’s not just about the music – it’s about the story, the energy, the challenge, the community feel, the shared joy amongst the musicians that spills out into the audience.

The Fulltone Orchestra are going places, don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Next stop Bath Abbey on November 4th and then, who knows.

Come and see them for yourself!

Come along for the ride!

Rehearsal image and concert review © Gail Foster 19th October 2021

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