On Friday, 6th August 2021, following an absence of live concerts and recitals, Brentwood Cathedral was prepared and brightly lit for the arrival of musicians and an enthusiastic audience of around 150 people. On arrival, an atmosphere of joyful reunion greeted us all while we waited for the early evening concert to begin. After a warm welcome was given by concert organiser Nina How, our eyes were drawn to Hermione Duan, the young violinist about to give her Cathedral concert debut.
As she stepped carefully onto the centre of the podium, wearing a shiny yellow dress and clutching her violin and bow, the unusual nature of this special occasion became more striking. We were about to hear a six-year-old girl perform a programme of pieces by Vivaldi, Massenet, Pachelbel and Bach!
Hermione was accompanied by twelve members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra including her teacher and mentor, Jennifer Christie, who directed the concert. In addition, Roderick Elms accompanied on the harpsichord and organ. The professional musicians, arranged in a semicircle, were ready to support the young soloist with encouraging smiles and musical guidance, aware both of her tender age and the vastness of the Cathedral venue.
After a few words from Jennifer Christie, the concert began with the first movement from ‘Spring’ from The Four Seasons by Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). The opening movement of this popular work, illustrating elements of Spring through birdsong and flowing streams, made an ideal start to the evening, with themes introduced exquisitely by Hermione amongst thrilling string sounds. Although young, her immediate focus, accuracy and sense of occasion were remarkable.
For her next piece, Hermione was joined by harpist Elizabeth Bass for ‘Meditation’ from Thaïs by French Romantic composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912), known for his thirty or more operas, including Thaïs, premiered in Paris in 1894.
The ‘Meditation’ for solo violin and orchestra was originally a six-minute instrumental section heard during a scene change, but soon captured people’s hearts and became a much loved performance piece in its own right. Hermione demonstrated this with an expressive, sweet tone and steady control, until the very last high note.
It was an evening for renewed enjoyment of favourite pieces, continuing with the famous ‘Canon’ by early German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706). Written around 1680 it disappeared into obscurity for over 200 years; published in 1919 and republished later with the accompanying ‘gigue’, it was not until the 1970s that Pachelbel’s Canon established itself and since then has been heard frequently at various musical events. Encircled by all the experienced players, Hermione clearly had fun during this piece, which, enhanced by the Cathedral’s acoustics, was equally uplifting for the audience.
The climax of the evening was when Hermione and Jennifer played the Double Violin Concerto in D Minor (BWV 1043) by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), composed around 1730 and one of Bach’s most widely appreciated works.
Hermione played with incredible technique and precision, beginning with the lively ‘Vivace’, followed by the ethereal and lengthy ‘Largo ma non tanto’. Those of us wondering whether Hermione would have enough energy left over for the ‘Allegro’ movement, at the end of such a demanding programme, were soon reassured! She delighted us with her extraordinary command and understanding of phrasing and rhythm, paying great attention to detail throughout this exciting finale.
Tumultuous applause and smiling faces brought the concert to a close, followed by animated conversations around the Cathedral. The talented soloist herself also chatted with us, while happily swinging her basket of flowers around the podium. Her favourite piece was the Vivaldi – “because my violin sounds like a bird!”
On behalf of Nina How and Brentwood Cathedral’s Director of Music, Andrew Wright, we would like to congratulate and thank Hermione Duan, her teacher and mentor Jennifer Christie, all the musicians and everyone involved in making this evening’s concert a truly unforgettable and beautiful occasion. We wish Hermione every success for the future and look forward to welcoming her, and all music lovers, back to Brentwood Cathedral soon.