After a month of no new online orchestral music to listen to I had almost forgotten the effect it has on me. I needed these two concerts this week.
I started a second job in January so I’m now working (from home) four days a week. At 5pm on Thursday I walked away from my desk, eyes dry and tired, not sure if sitting back down at 7:30pm to watch a streamed performance was a wise decision. However, doing so (lights out, headphones on) was the best way I could spend an evening – suddenly there was a rhythm to my life that had been missing for quite some time – work for four days, switch off and turn on to the joy of music. Simple. I slept better on Thursday night than I have done in a long time.
So, what did I think?
The Halle were performing in Halle St Peter’s – a converted church space they have now extended and this space has enabled them to rehearse and play during the pandemic. The Church space has been pared back to its essentials – bare brick walls, floors and pillars with a lovely stained glass rose window at one end giving it a lovely look (difficult to judge what the sound would be like in ‘real life’) and enables the musicians to be safely spaced.
SIMON ARMITAGE read out loud his poem “the event horizon” while standing beside a copy of the poem inscribed on a metal plaque in the building – the sentiment is wonderful – that moment when music is about to start and it set the mood for the evening.
I first heard COPLAND’s Quiet City at the digital Proms last summer (boy, does that seem like a lifetime ago!) and loved it then – tonight it was a more intimate performance because of the space, but it was sublime. I was feeling so much more relaxed at the end of this than at the beginning, life was starting to feel a little more normal again.
HANNAH KENDALL’s Where is the chariot of fire? (a world premiere) didn’t touch me quite as much, but I will give it another go, just in case. We were then treated to a discussion between Jonathan Bloxham, Hannah Kendall and Jess Gillam talking about the music and their inspiration for composing or choosing pieces to play.
GLAZUNOV’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone was complex and fast leaving Jess Gillam looking exhausted at the end of certain sections, but she maintained her energy levels and this proved to be a wonderful, energetic piece – I generally like Glazunov whenever I hear his music – perhaps it should be programmed more often.
RAVEL’s Mother Goose Suite ended the concert and it was here that the orchestra really came to the fore – they are excellent all round, the filming and camera work were just right and I felt I was part of the ensemble as we focused in on certain players as they shone in their part. They were led gently through by the conductor and I had a sense of ‘whole’ by the end.
This felt like a ‘normal’ concert – an opener, a new piece, a concerto and a symphony (or tone poem in this case). All that was missing was an audience. The playing was great for all pieces and overarching effect it had on me was that of knowing that my love for live performance is still there.
Friday 15th January saw the return of the RSNO’s digital season. There were some technical difficulties in uploading the concert – I’d logged on early and watched almost all of it uninterrupted until Chris Gough on French horn was cut down in his prime right on the last page of music! After an introduction from Paul Philbert (principal timp) we met Errolyn Wallen, the composer of the first piece who’d been involved in the rehearsal process and James Lowe who had taken control on the podium at last minute (the problems of Covid 19 travel restrictions, quarantine etc).
Often with new music, I get nervous that I’m not going to understand it, or appreciate it, or just get bored by it. In the case of Errollyn Wallen’s Mighty River this was not the case. Commissioned to mark the end of the Slavery Act she likened the push to freedom to a river seeking out the sea – and this effect was achieved. The strings kept the momentum going while other sections added colour, depth and moments of interest throughout the journey. It was a lovely, musical piece that was accessible and I hope it fits into the standard repertoire of orchestras going forward.
When I’d seen the original season (you know, the one we all buy seats for) I was so excited to see that Karen Cargill would be singing Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder – one of my favourite song cycles. I just wallow in that music, and I have come to love Karen Cargill’s voice and, in particular, the clarity in her diction. I settled down ready to be embraced by gorgeous music, beautiful diction and luscious singing. I was in bits by the end – it was all those things plus more. The way Karen Cargill’s voice soars so effortlessly up to the top notes, and then drops to an incredible lower register – oh I wish I could sing just 1% as well as this. Just perfect.
Dvořák’s Symphony No9 From the New World is not my favourite because it has so many familiar bits to it that I forget to listen carefully to the less familiar bits to it – a bit like a Puccini opera where the audience is taken from one famous aria to the next without any regard to the orchestral and choral music in between. So this evening I made an effort to listen to the bits in between, taking on board James Lowe’s comments that he thinks of it more as a homecoming symphony with more Czech influences than American, and in that vein I heard more music in the performance than ever before. Thank you.
As always it’s great to see familiar players perform and tonight they were all on form. Lovely French horn, beautiful cor anglais, cello and brass from the rest of the ensemble throughout each of the pieces reminds me how lucky I am to have ‘discovered’ this orchestra to add to my portfolio of artists to watch and listen to.
Watching the RSNO on a Friday night reinforces the rhythm of my old life, and one I long to return to. This also felt like a normal concert, with only the absence of applause at the end to remind me of our current situation. I will continue to watch and support. And when I’m back in the hall, for a socially, or non-socially, distanced concert with players squeezed on to the stage, sharing desks and scores, I will applaud with more enthusiasm, stand and holler ‘bravo’ or a simple ‘wow’, just to try to show my appreciation of the efforts they have made during these odd times.