A classical music star is born in Coco Tomita

Coco Tomita with Mayor and Kenneth Roberts
Coco Tomita with Mayor and Kenneth Roberts
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Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Concert at St Saviour’s Church on June 18 is unlikely ever to be forgotten by anyone in the audience. Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are reliable crowd-pullers, but neither can be regarded as easy on the performers.

Especially demanding is the latter’s Violin Concerto; indeed Leopold Auer, who was invited to give its first performance, declared it “unplayable.” And one can see why. The lush melodies and exciting rhythms are overlaid with soaring harmonics or fierce double-stopping, and can so easily be drowned out by a large orchestra.

Coco Tomita last year won the ESO’s Young Musician Competition, even though she was by far the youngest finalist. She is slightly built, delicate even...so her choice of this demanding Russian masterpiece might seem foolish, especially for a 15 year old. Except for one thing. She is, without any question, already a world class soloist for whom no allowances need to be made.

I was fortunate to be at the Albert Hall when Russian David Oistrakh made his first visit to Britain after the war. Later I heard his son Igor, and their performances of this concerto are what resonate in my memory. I have seen many other famous names flex their musical muscles on this glorious work; but not until I heard Coco this summer evening did I ever find anyone whose performance was able to combine romantic melody, total technical command, and joyous exuberance in the way I recall from the Oistrakhs. Make no mistake, the name Tomita will soon be as familiar as Menuhin. She even seemed to inspire the orchestra to new heights, under conductor Kenneth Roberts. In the first half we had some fine Beethoven. His 8th Symphony is small beer compared with the mighty 9th, the Choral, but it is worth more performances than it gets. Now approaching their 38th season the orchestral players go from strength to strength, and Beethoven would have been well satisfied. Even more interesting, the evening began with the first of his three Leonore Overtures. It was discarded as the overture for his opera Fidelio, and virtually forgotten in the composer’s lifetime. The ESO, led by Lisa Wigmore, brought out the inner emotions, with some good playing by all sections and fine tempi from the conductor. Their next concert will be in St Saviour’s Church on October 22. If only they could get Coco back to play the Britten Concerto, my cup would be overflowing. By Robin Gregory.