“You’re reviewing a classical music concert?”

This was the main reaction whenever I mentioned I was seeing the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra open their 2017/18 season at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. I’ll admit that I’m probably better suited to critiquing Madonna over Mahler, but along I went with absolutely no preconceptions.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend a BBC Philharmonic concert before when I reviewed the Scary Fairy with Craig Charles. But this was my first ever foray into a full-on classical concert. To say I was entranced is an understatement. It was amazing.

I’m not going to pretend that I analysed the musicality of the orchestra or its interpretation of a masterpiece, but I did lose myself in beautiful music for almost two hours and, by the end of it all, felt really quite emotional.

We are so preoccupied with the visual these days that the music tends to takes a back seat, so I would urge anyone, beginner or veteran, to go and listen to an orchestra play in The Bridgewater Hall. I have attended numerous events at The Bridgewater but never the type for which it was designed. The acoustics and quality of sound are awe-inspiring. It’s hard to believe that this gem in the already illustrious Manchester venue scene is now 21-years-old.

But back to the music. Mahler’s Symphony No3 is broken down into six movements with the first being almost as long as the other five put together. The symphony focuses on creation which was a response to Symphony No 2 which centred on death and resurrection.

To see a full orchestra playing, and one as fluid as the BBC Philharmonic, is a treat. You could hear a pin drop as the audience settled into position before the orchestra attacked the six movements with sheer conviction and no break. The controlled elements of the playing were the most impressive, leading us on a journey which rose and fell beautifully.

And I must mention the mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill whose voice was wonderful as she took on the fourth and fifth movements, strongly yet subtly supported by the Boy & Girl Choristers of Gloucester Cathedral and the BBC National Chorus of Wales who all brought the night to a peak.

Juanjo Mena, chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, had these peaks and troughs firmly in his grasp as he controlled the whole night with precision. Mena will be standing down at the end of this 2017/18 programme so now is the time to go and see him.

If you’re not sure that classical music is for you (and I admit to being one of those people), I can lend you a pearl of wisdom which a friend gave to me when I was of a similar opinion about football. Go and see it for yourself, don’t rely on TV or recordings to give you the full-on experience.

The 2017/18 of which this event was the opener is full of fascinating evenings covering Beethoven, Elgar and more Mahler if this attempt at a review has whetted your appetite.

By Chris Park

Main image by Michal Novak