Sunday, 30 April 2017

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave…

You have to have a lot of faith in an orchestra to open proceedings with something as challenging as Copland’s Appalachian Spring suite. This is no warm-up for what follows; there is nowhere to hide; and you therefore need an ensemble at the very top of its form from opening bar to last. So… perfect for the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra, then! And they were perfect for it, too: special praise going to the athletic percussion section (who would not be allowed to even think about relaxing until the interval) and flautist Catherine Billington… – and, of course, one of the greatest brass sections this side of Brighouse. But every single player deserves as much commendation – if only for the number of tears shed throughout. (Yes, I know I am a soppy bugger: but the instant creation of such matchless atmosphere would surely have softened the sternest heart. This really was that remarkable.)

David Curtis’ whole modus operandi stands atop a steadfast foundation of trust and such faith: the attention paid to his every gesture – however subtle – shaming more complacent orchestras (and conductors). But it is from this unassailable bedrock that all the other magic grows: including the uncanny ability to transport an audience as one in space and time. Early 19th-century Pennsylvania has never sounded – or felt – so appealing.

Copland’s ballet is, for me, one of the man’s (and the American century’s) greatest accomplishments: a masterpiece of subtle portrait and landscape painting that I don’t think he ever really surpassed (although Rodeoto be played by the CSO in July – comes close for wit and bravado; but not, I think, quite the tenderness, the poignancy, found here…). And, no matter how many times I hear it, it maintains its freshness; its inventiveness. But it has to come from the heart (meaning courage and boldness; as well as emotion and compassion). Like this did….

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Faith, I’ll bear no base mind…

It is seven months and six days since I last donned my fervent walking boots and headed out of the front door in search of the spiritual nourishment only nature can provide – the act of doing so more psychologically and physiologically strenuous than I had initially envisaged. But such challenges are there for us to subjugate… if we are to be alive to our values (and alive for them). Should we let either external constraints or internally-driven apprehensions suppress (or even oppress) our compelling predilections and true-hearted desires, then surely our very identities and individualities are at risk of corruption or cessation.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Once More, with Feeling…!

Before you is something of a duality: firstly, it is one of the greatest chamber orchestras in existence; secondly, it is a group of twenty-odd people with centuries of musical experience, megatons of knowledge, and infinite willingness… all with the ability to help you achieve greatness. Trust them, respect them, communicate with them – kiss their feet, if necessary: because only rarely in your career will you be handed such wonders – and work with them. Involve them; ask them for their thoughts – and take them seriously; put their ideas into action. Let them see your shared belief in the ability to turn all those dots and lines into something capable of ripping open souls (if not vortices in the space-time continuum). Listen and learn – for if you do not, bad things will come to pass (which they did – by my standards, anyway).

Arrive on your mighty steed of arrogance, and tell them what to do… – well, being professionals of the highest calibre, that is exactly what they will do. Nothing more, nothing less. However – to them… – stupid or ridiculous, or just plain wrong, they will obey your instructions to a T. But you might – because you thought you knew best: that conductors must lay down the law, as well as the beat… rather than be an equal and collaborate… – as well have programmed a bunch of robots. You will not have access to their hearts and brains; nor will you be able to share in their bountiful wonders.

Of course, treat them like a musical instrument, with fixed gradations of volume, and lashed to a metronome… – yes, you will make music; but it will in no way be musical. (Yes, it was technically brilliant, but….) Love them as a living organism; treat them as such – not as some starved dancing bear with mange – but as human beings with emotions and flaws (just like you) – if you open yourself up to them: and only then will you be rewarded.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

There is no passion to be found playing small…

Two tantalizing prospects lured me to last night’s concert… – that of seeing and hearing the Orchestra of the Swan with a change of conductor; and witnessing that conductor – Julian Lloyd Webber – in his new element: that of (to use his own word) “accompanist”, rather than the accompanied. Having only witnessed him before as cellist (and one of the greatest) – but, luckily, been privy to his views on one of his new roles – I was rather intrigued.

There was a third element, I suppose: in that Mozart never having composed music for solo cello, this would also be the first time I would witness him immersed in this most beloved of composers (a kissed score at the end the perfect seal of this most wonderful partnership).

It was impressive – no doubt having been on the receiving end so very often… – how clear his instructions were, in rehearsal: both spoken and signed. So clear, that the dynamics (and crispness) he immediately provoked from the OOTS strings in the opening Allegro of Eine kleine Nachtmusik were incredibly and wonderfully fresh – vigorous even. He is a lithe big friendly giant of a man; and, even without a podium, loomed over the strings as if his arms would reach to the back desks. Never threateningly, though. It was almost as if he were embracing them….

This is a string section, of course – albeit with a scattering of fresh faces – more than capable of playing this work without guidance; and yet Julian quickly stamped his mark on what is always a watchful and obedient ensemble. The opening movement was therefore electrifying: pulling individual lines out for emphasis; snapping entries into place.