A Rookie Error

It appears that I have been rather foolish.

Not only have I fallen into the trap of being an incensed middle-aged white male barking online about a performer’s concert attire, but I’ve managed to pitch myself deftly and efficiently as a classical music fan who is part of the very problem classical music is trying to rid itself of.

And I’ve achieved this in a short series of Tweets posted shortly after I left the Albert Hall last night, before I reached South Kensington tube station (which was closed, by the way).

Last night’s Aurora Orchestra was something I was looking forward to following rave reviews of the band’s Saffron Hall ‘sister concert’.

What took me a little by surprise and subsequently drew my eye throughout the first work was Pavel Kolesnikov’s bright orange Nike trainers. Rarely has concert attire drawn my eye quite so much, triggered so much thought and reflection, and in so doing distracted me from the sole purpose of the event I was attending in the first place.

Pavel’s footwear was, I understand from incoming correspondence, a clear sign to reach out to younger audiences to make classical music appear more approachable. From my seat in the stalls it feld oddly contrived and a bit arch. It was a distraction.

Even writing that now … in.an.actual.blog.post … gives me the fear a bit. I can hear the shouts across the internet heading my way. I can see whatever reputation it is I have disappearing down a plug hole.

Maybe one of those correspondents was right when she asked whether I might consider deleting my Tweets.

But then again. Maybe she wasn’t. My comment wasn’t rude. It wasn’t offensive. I was hardly spreading misinformation about COVID or vaccines. I was just expressing an opinion in the moment. I think that’s still OK. We should all of us be able to do that.

There is for me a good reason why everyone on stage by and large wears all one colour (a uniform if you like) or a pallet of colours. It’s to reduce distraction. I’m not advocating penguin suits or dinner jackets, nor evening dresses (these always strike me as distinctly uncomfortable to wear at a point in time when performers need to be ‘freed-up’). But against a neutral backdrop of players on stage at a venue like the Royal Albert Hall say, it’s hardly surprising that the introduction of a bright pair of trainers is going to draw the eye – to the feet rather than the keyboard.

I can now see producers rubbing their hands together with glee, others rolling their eyes with derision. Those with a proven track record in passive aggression will also be looking at this and no doubt thinking, “Well we had to wait a long time but it paid off – he’s finally made an idiot of himself saying this. He really is part of the problem.”

What Aurora’s concert has highlighted to me is that I’m surprisingly and comfortably conventional and orthodox. I’m attuned to contrivance. And I’m reminded that I’m less inclined to think that appealing to a younger audience is best done through fashion choices.

I still hold that the music should speak for itself. It’s just music. Listening is all that’s required. That and a properly funded music education system that introduces music at primary school level. That would help a great deal.

First selection of live events announced for 2021

There’s a new phrase to look out for in press releases: live audience. Guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. Worthy of bringing to the attention of readers. Necessary to celebrate. Important to underline.

Now is the time to bring attention to those intrepid arts administrators who are scheduling their first events for people in real life.

I’m not entirely sure whether I can keep a regular set of updates on here, but I am going to try my very best. Here’s the first selection of ‘trailblazers’ bringing live music back to the real world.

Hertfordshire Festival of Music 2021 (4-10 June 2021)

Albion String Quartet

Conductor (and Thoroughly Good Podcastee) Tom Hammond and composer James Francis Brown are staging last year’s COVID-post-poned Hertfordshire Festival of Music, with the help of the music of Judith Weir, violinist Chloë Hanslip, pianists Florean Mitrea and Danny Driver, the Albion Quartet (their Dvorak string quartets 5 & 12 released on Signum from 2019 is worthy of your attention if you haven’t already experienced it), and the ridiculously energetic cellist and actor Matthew Sharp.

Full list of performances on the Hertfordshire Festival of Music website.

London Piano Festival (8-10 October 2021)

It seems like a ridiculously way off (and in a far-away land in Kings Place, London), but the further away that live music experiences are billed, the more reliable the guarantee will be closer to, what feels like now, a nostalgic sense of normality. The brilliant Gabriela Montero, another Thoroughly Good Podcastee, brings The Immigrant, a recital culminating in a live improvisation to Charlie Chaplin’s short film to LPF this year.

There’s a premiere of premiere of Sally Beamish’s new two-piano work, Sonnets. In the same concert a group of five pianists – Katya Apekisheva, Finghin Collins, Gabriela Montero, Charles Owen and Kathryn Stott – perform works by Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Rachmaninov and Poulenc on two interlocking Steinways.

The Festival culminates on Sunday morning when Charles Owen is joined by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy to explore the symmetry between maths and the music of J.S. Bach, including a performance of Goldberg Variations. Live performance AND immersion in nerdy detail. I’m in the queue before YOU.

Tickets and event details via the London Piano Festival website.

BBC Proms 2021 (30 July – 11 September 2021)

This completely passed me by. I didn’t see it in my social media feeds. And I am ENORMOUSLY relieved to discover that in whatever form the BBC Proms is going to go ahead this year. And I am prepared to wait my turn to attend.

London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Concerts at Southbank Centre from 28 May

News from the Southbank Centre is that two of their resident orchestras the London Philharmonic and Philharmonia will announce their live audience events on 14th April.

Manchester Collective at King’s Place

Manchester Collective (18 June 2021)

Manchester Collective show interrogates the darker side of the American dream, evoking the intrigue and momentum of New York City’s sleepless nights and crowded streets. Steve Reich’s signature throbbing masterpieces bookend the programme and set the tempo throughout. Fast. Slow. Fast. The Double Sextet features an explosion of fractured rhythms and the composer’s characteristic shifts of mood. Elsewhere in the programme, the Collective perform the world premiere of a new work by the “inventive, challenging, and glorious” Hannah Peel. Finally, David Lang’s underhand masterpiece ‘Cheating, Lying, Stealing’.

A socially-distanced concert at King’s Place. Tickets at the Kings Place website

Nicola Benedetti, Aurora Orchestra & Nicholas Collon (4 July 2021)

Aurora Orchestra performs Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Nicola Benedetti. Benedetti could play a C major scale with orchestral accompaniment and would still be an uplifting affair.

Royal Festival Hall with a live audience. Tickets available here from 14 April. 

Aurora Orchestra’s principal flute and Creative Director Jane Mitchell wins RPS ABO Salomon Prize

Congratulations to Aurora Orchestra’s principal flute and Creative Director Jane Mitchell who was last night awarded with the Royal Philharmonic Society and Association of British Orchestras Salomon Prize, celebrating an orchestral musicians achievements as nominated by the orchestra they work for.

One of those awards you see announced you end up thinking to yourself, “Well, good show and about time.”

Mitchell is I think I’m right in saying a critical player in the creation of last years breathtaking Berlioz Symphonie fantastique theatrical extravanza last year, and the driving force in nearly every concert I’ve come away from Aurora have played where I’ve felt invigorated, refreshed and (seeing as they even got a mention in my coaching session this month), maybe even inspired.

The award and its associated PR bursts a smallish bubble through which I’ve peered at orchestras and seen them as a complete thing rather than a mass of creative individuals. Sorry, obviously. In my defence I didn’t do that knowingly. It’s just that the announcement has quite rightly taken me by surprise.

At the risk of this blog appearing like a big Aurora Orchestra love-in, the band are also playing at the Proms this week. I bet it won’t be anywhere as good as the Handyside Canopy gig.

Aurora at Handyside Canopy

The opening chords of Beethoven’s 7th symphony played by the Aurora Orchestra in Kings Cross pinned me to the glass doors of nearby Waitrose in Handyside Canopy. Tears flowed. This was the first actual live orchestral music I’d heard in person in six months. A supercharged affair.

There’s a vague sense that this might be an outing for musicians and concert-goers alike which is fleeting. Conversations I’ve had today with TV people hint at something cumbersome and depressing coming down the tracks: an increasing R-rate. If you’re part of a pitifully small group of people who are getting to experience live music in socially-distanced audiences right now maybe that avenue of pleasure will be closed of in the coming weeks. Will Christmas music all be pre-recorded? Or will we ride this wave? It’s difficult to tell.

© Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

No time for catastrophisation. Let’s live in the moment. Savour it. Jump up and down with joy. Because really, that’s how it felt last night hearing 50 minutes of live unamplified music.

There were critics present in the audience for the concert I attended. God only knows why anyone worries what critics think right now. The important thing is about capturing what’s so incredibly exciting about this experience now. Because if we do we might collectively – us fans – remind ourselves of the secret that could entice the newcomers.

And what is that exactly? Well first, realising that the sound you’re connecting with in the moment isn’t amplified. It’s made by humans. Physical contact – bow on string, lips on mouthpieces, and eyes alive. This stuff is electric. We are being immersed in an experience whilst sat on a plastic chair within sight of the entrance to Waitrose.

The reality is that I could get used to this kind of set up. Put an orchestra and a smallish audience (who have been starved of contact with their network) in a boomy acoustic at a sophisticated distance from one another and let the atmosphere create itself. We were all massively appreciative. The excitement was delectable. Who wouldn’t want to be in amongst that?

Aurora Orchestra play at the BBC Proms on Thursday 10 September