Why Oramo is great news for the BBCSO

Conductor Sakari Oramo will raise the BBC Symphony Orchestra's game and put a smile on their faces, writes Fiona Maddocks

Barely a week passes without a shuffle of conductors' chairs. Why has today's announcement that Sakari Oramo will become Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra caused such a rare outpouring of universal enthusiasm and twitter excitement? For one thing, the BBCSO has been in something of a doldrums of late and this appointment, in one fell swoop, has put them back on the map, hence the buzz.

Oramo managed the impossible task of filling, with notable success, the enormous gap left by Simon Rattle when he took over from him at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Quietly, and with immense charm, confidence and support for a wide range of repertoire – not just from his Finnish homeland but in a variety of British music too – Oramo made his mark, and developed the sound of the CBSO even beyond Rattle's extraordinary achievements.

Not many could have managed it - it was thought to be something of a poisoned chalice, or at least a rotten job, to try to replace a departing, Rattle-shaped local hero. But Oramo worked miracles. It's hard to think of anyone who could have got the chemistry right, so quickly. A superb violinist, he was able from the outset to tackle a part of the CBSO – the all-important string section - that was not Rattle's own area of expertise. They improved immeasurably. He may do the same with the BBCSO.

The strange psychology of conducting requires so much more than musical know-how. Few can still get away with the demonic tyranny of such past maestros as Karajan or Toscanini, but on the whole those days are over. Orchestras respond to a mix of authority and charisma, confidence and compassion, as well as technical clarity and brilliance. Oramo, whose English is perfect and whose twinkling smile is beguiling, has a gift of empathy, and no obvious signs of vanity – surprising for one on the podium.

He will also be a great bonus at the Proms, where the BBC Symphony Orchestra is effectively the resident ensemble. The conductor needs to have Prommers eating out of his hand, throughout the season as well as on the flag-waving Last Night when his speech will be pored over for the next 12 months. The range or repertoire, from mainstream to notably contemporary, will be well within his eclectic grasp.

The BBCSO is unique in its ability to take on difficult new scores with minimal rehearsal time. It is full of outstanding musicians. They are superb sight-readers but, so general – and often unreliable - opinion has it, not always so good at putting the same excellence into the great works of the canon. Let's not dwell on a recent Beethoven Nine... Occasionally of late they have looked bored. In tough times, with other BBC orchestras making waves, some might have thought the BBCSO's days might be numbered.

No longer. They needed a shot of adrenalin. They've got it. Oramo's methods are considered, thoughtful and full of musical intelligence. But he understands the drama and thrill of live performance, and knows how to put the hard work into achieving it. He will raise their game and, surely, put a smile on their faces, not a minute too soon. We can all cheer at the prospect.

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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