Manchester Camerata with Jess Gillam at Wigmore Hall

So, Manchester Camerata playing live (at Wigmore Hall tonight) was a bit of a revelation.

Technicolour sounds, warmth, depth, dynamism and an unapologetic commitment to packing their programme full of atmosphere, feeling and blistering talent. There wasn’t a flabby moment in the programme. Nothing out of place. So much energy, not only from them but from a delightfully youthful-looking and hugely appreciate audience.

Notable highlights – too many to detail in full – included a sumptuous performance of Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto matched in technical demands by Dave Heath’s terrifyingly concise and hugely entertaining ‘The Celtic’. Soloist Jess Gillam’s technique is remarkable – stunning breath control, stamina and a consistently reliable embouchure that makes me wonder how she manages to talk when she’s finished playing.

Elsewhere in the programme the strings of Manchester Camerata worked ferociously hard creating a sound world for Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony that sounded like it was created by 50 players not the 17 on stage. Their performance was fierce, sombre, urgent and electrifying. Kudos to the violas who were out of this world.

The programme felt as though it had been sensitively put together, conjuring up a joyous atmosphere in Shiva Feshareki’s VENUS\ZOHREH, and in one that was poignant but not over-indulgent on the pathos, Daniel Kidane’s wistful pandemic-response ‘Be Still’.

The concert was brimming with content that kept me hooked throughout – an indication of a carefully curated programme designed for an audience at one with mood-shifting playlists.

And an additional delicious surprise: Caroline Shaw’s inventive Entr’acte from 2011, packed full of colours and textures that make this a concert piece every school kid needs to hear up close.

Sincere introductions from the group’s highly engaged leader Caroline Pether gave the event an unexpectedly intimate feel. Loved all of it. And I don’t say that often either.

Watch Manchester Camerata’s ‘Keith’ made for World Alzheimer’s Day

The Manchester Camerata have released another in their series of Untold videos – Keith – on World Alzheimers Day, combining commissioned poetry with a carefully curated playlist of music recorded as live by MC musicians.

It is a deeply affecting fifteen minutes of video. It has a massive impact on me watching it. Only yesterday I was met at the front door by a neighbour telling me that Mohammed who lives across the road from us had died from an aneurysm the night before. This six weeks or so after my mother sufferer a catastrophic stroke which has left her with vascular dementia. It’s been a challenging six weeks recalibrating to a different style of communication, contemplating the inevitable at the same time as saying a partial ‘goodbye’.

“With the music I feel normal. But when it stops I feel like Keith who’s got an illness.”

At the moment, watching ‘Keith’, I can’t quite determine whether that’s why I’m moved because of these personal circumstances or whether it is in itself a well-crafted moving piece of storytelling.

It’s both. Of course.

What I especially like about the film is how it fills in the blanks for those of us left behind. It gives us a hint (articulated via Julie Hesmondhalgh and Neil Bell’s touching voice over) of what it might feel like to experience a gradual loss of cognition. I see terror, fear, and joy.

Julie Hesmondhalgh from Coronation Street voices a powerful script written by Amanda Dalton drawing on accounts from the real-life Keith

I think of those who are gone as I watch it. I hear the range of music Manchester Camerata want to be known for. And then I think about what power music has. And what needs to be done on a hyperlocal, local and national level.

Underpinning this film is a powerful message: Music isn’t valued right now by those who claim to be doing something about education, culture and social care. And this film in all its gritty beauty is there to illustrate why something needs to change.

Previously a coach driver for football clubs across the northwest, a member of the grenadier guards and an avid music fan, the film tells of Keith’s personal account of how dementia affects the everyday life of him and his wife Joan, as well as the transformative ways in which music helps him.

In the powerful script written by poet and playwright Amanda Dalton, the short film features actress Julie Hesmondhalgh as narrator with Neil Bell and Carla Henry portraying Keith and Joan. Manchester Camerata perform music by Mozart, Handel, Schubert and George Benson, chosen by Keith.

The film comes just weeks after the Orchestra launched its brand-new Music Café at the Monastery in Gorton, extending its ground-breaking community work to support those living with dementia and at-home carers. The Camerata continues its dementia research partnership with The University of Manchester which has proven first-hand how music empowers people living with dementia.

As a piece of digital marketing content it is textbook stuff. Issue-inspired high-quality content drawing on multiple disciplines to serve everyone and everything it seeks to champion, deployed at a moment in time its most needed.

You’d think that only a handful of people were involved in its creation (hence why it has so much currency and immediacy). But in actual fact, the production credits are considerable. I’ve included them at the bottom of the post along with the video.

Watch Manchester Camerata’s ‘Keith’ made for World Alzheimer’s Day


Caroline Pether director/violin
Catherine Landen violin
Lucy Nolan viola
Peggy Nolan cello
Hannah Robert cello
Naomi Atherton horn
Graham South trumpet
Mark Addison trumpet
James Bulger trumpet
Peter Mainwaring trumpet
Tom Berry trombone
Chris Jones trombone
Elizabeth Bannan trombone

Amanda Dalton Writer
Paul Sapin Director
Jackie Thompson [Stop Keep Doing That] Producer
Tony Coldwell Director of Photography
Ian Maclagan Sound Recordist
Ken Lowe Lighting Gaffer
Clive Hunte 2nd Camera
Em Carroll Assistant Producer
Wayne Bennett Quicksilver SFX
Christian Palmer Crew Assistant
Julie Hesmondhalgh Narrator
Neil Bell As Keith
Carla Henry As Joan
Keith As himself
Lucy Dean Make-Up
Mark Elliot Film Editor
Kane Williams Assistant Editor
Paul Willis Online Editor
Jason Hall Z-Arts Technician
Andrew Croft Projection Design
Laura Jack COVID Supervisor
Heaton Park Filmed on location at Heaton Park
ZArts Filmed on location at Z-Arts