MUSIC inspired by an old Forest legend was described as “both controversial and magnificent in equal measure” as the Royal Forest of Dean Orchestra celebrated its 30th anniversary at the weekend.

Organisers said the concert at Parkend Church on Saturday (July 8) was “a major triumph” filled with standing ovations and virtuoso performances, including from some talented young guest musicians.

Forest composer Ryan Probert’s specially commissioned piece ‘The Bears’, based on the old local dispute over who killed two performing bears in Ruardean in the 1800s, was a particular highlight, while Gloucestershire Young Musician of the Year Isaac Williams gave a virtuoso performance of Saint-Saens which wowed the audience.

And it was Ukrainian soprano Nadia Postolatii’s ability to combine humour and huge talent that drew loud applause in her second outing with the orchestra.

A cheque for £1,000 was also presented to chair Alison Phelps from secretary of the Honourable Commpany of Gloucestershire Margaret Fuller on the night.

Orchestra supporter and Forester columnist Dave Kent reviewed the concert, describing the programme as “imaginative and well balanced”.

Dave writes: “The Forest’s own orchestra celebrated its 30th anniversary at St Pauls Church, Parkend, with virtuoso performances from guest musicians. In an imaginative and well-balanced programme there were songs from the shows, some interesting orchestral music and a world premiere performance of piece specially commissioned by the Orchestra from the local award winning composer Ryan Probert.

“The Orchestra was, I believe, the biggest in its history, with at least 55 musicians that I could count on stage, and I’m sure that there were some percussionists accommodated behind church furniture that I couldn’t see. This testifies to the popularity of our orchestra, which now has two fine local conductors Will Sharma and Fiona Crawley instead of relying on outside conductors.

“The opening item was the specially commissioned ‘The Bears’ by Ryan Probert. Foresters will know that the residents of Ruardean were falsely accused of killing a couple of performing bears in the village at the end of the 19th century, and that this outrageous slur on the people of Ruardean still rankles. Ryan Probert’s composition is a sort of musical poem with sounds and musical styles which evoke the atmosphere of a mysterious and remote rural society. It’s a challenging piece, and the Orchestra were completely up to the challenge, with the evening’s soloist soprano Nadia Postolatii contributing an atmospheric plaintive note to a sad story.

“Saint-Saens’ ‘Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso’ and Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute Overture’ were more conventional pieces, with soloist the Gloucestershire Young Musician of the year Isaac Williams performing the tricky Saint-Saens item with energy and style.

“It’s good to hear songs by the American musical composers Gershwin and Bernstein performed at a classical music concert. Soprano Nadia Postolatii continues the long and close connection between the Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal Forest Orchestra, and charmed the audience with her passionate performance of those moving classics of the Broadway stage ‘Summertime’ and ‘Somewhere’. There was also a lesser known work by Gershwin, an engaging piece of nonsense entitled ‘Blah Blah Blah’, which went down rather well. Nadia is a proud Ukranian with a particular love of Ukranian music, but with strong musical connections with Britain and France and a multi-lingual repertoire of songs.

“Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ is impossible to follow, so was clearly going to be the finale item of the concert. This piece is a particular favourite of mine, with its insistent rhythms, relentless themes, highlighting of different areas of the orchestra as it increases in intensity, and culminating in a glorious discord. This was the first time that I had heard it live, and I was not disappointed. I hope that the Orchestra’s string players have not suffered sore fingers from the extended pizzicato sessions in ‘Bolero’.