Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique was described by Leonard Bernstein as the first musical expedition into psychedelia, because of its hallucinatory and dream-like nature.
The French Romantic’s big-hearted blockbuster tells the story of a gifted artist who, in the depths of hopelessness and despair brought on by unrequited love, turns to opium.
Indeed, history suggests Berlioz composed at least parts of the symphony while under the influence of opium.
Symphonie fantastique tells the story of the artist’s drug-fuelled hallucinations, beginning with a festive ball and ending with a march to the scaffold and a satanic dream.
First performed at the Paris Conservatoire in 1830, the piece is still going strong nearly 200 years later.
Including Friday night at the Music Hall in Aberdeen.
A sonic extravaganza with a climactic finale
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s (SSO) evening of entertainment began with Cassandra Miller’s Duet for Cello and Orchestra.
With its “powerful sequences of rolling surges and undulating waves”, Miller’s cello duet is described by The Guardian as one of the best classical music works of the 21st century.
I’m not against experimentalism, but honestly, I found it a little odd. I can’t see it being played to audiences in 10 year’s time.
On to the main event, and Scotland’s finest orchestra – expertly conducted by Ilan Volkov and with Charles Curtis on cello – delivered for its Aberdeen audience.
Symphonie fantastique’s first-ever performance was played by one of the biggest orchestras the world had then seen.
It certainly needs a robust orchestra to do justice to Berlioz’s sonic extravaganza of gothic horror, hopeless devotion and glorious excess.
And the SSO rose to the challenge triumphantly as the next hour simply flew by.
A personal highlight was the fifth and final movement, ‘Songe d’une nuit du sabbat’ (Dream of a Night of the Sabbath), with its tempo changes and host of effects – particularly woodwind and strings – leading to the climactic finale.
£6 tickets – a brilliant initiative from Aberdeen Performing Arts
All in all, a great choice by the SSO, who again showed they can take on the most ambitious works with aplomb.
Finally, hats off to Aberdeen Performing Arts for offering £6 tickets for students, under 26s, and the unemployed. More of this please.