#BRISTOLPROMS: Day 2, Part 2 – Dave Yapp, Megan Brand, Grace Denton

Following on from his round up of Day 1, #BRISTOLPROMS Ambassador Dave Yapp shares his thoughts on Day 2:

After the visual spectacular that was the first night of #BRISTOLPROMS, we were treated to a song and a dance on the second day.

First, Peter Gregson and Jane Gibson led a workshop in the afternoon to discover just what were the dances that Bach was thinking about when he wrote his now famous solo cello suites.  A group of volunteers were taught the basics of Baroque dancing by the incredibly knowledgeable Jane Gibson.  If you’ve witnessed any historical dramas in recent years (stage or screen), the chances are the actors have learnt the correct mode of dance and movement from Jane.  It felt like she was teaching the group how to BE a Baroque lady or gentleman rather than simply learning dance moves.

In the evening concert we were treated to these elegant dances along with a beautiful performance by Peter Gregson of 2 of the suites. He made a couple of interesting points in conversation at the workshop and later to the audience which enhanced my appreciation of the performance. Firstly, the trend of playing classical music as fast as possible is a recent one. When the tempo is set by the dance style, you get an elegant authenticity to the piece.  He also pointed out that the dancers are really listening to the melody which is not always prominent in the incredible labyrinth that is Bach’s combination of melody, counterpoint and harmony in a single melodic line.  And just as Steve Reich tends to pick out melodies from his minimalist soundscapes, you found yourself picking apart Bach’s complex melodic patterns to hear elements that weren’t apparent before.

Next, VOCES8 took to the stage of Bristol Old Vic. It became apparent from very early on that these singers know each other very well. Musically, I mean. It’s no surprise to hear that they’ve performed about 100 concerts already this year. Their clarity and timing was phenomenal and each was given a chance to shine in their brilliantly balanced arrangements.

The second half was unique as it’s the only concert in the Proms to be performed at a different venue, choosing to sing their sacred set in the nearby church of St Mary Redcliffe.  For me, this is when VOCES8 shone. Their use of the space and their exploration of the glorious acoustic was stunning. A brilliantly structured program, including the delicately powerful ‘The Lamb’ by John Tavener. Each of the 8 were masterful singers but I feel I need to acknowledge the sonorous bass of Dingle (that’s his name) which resonated wonderfully in the church acoustic.

Finally, our late prom in the Theatre with Jon Boden and the Sacconi Quartet recreating Elvis Costello’s Juliet Letters. I was once more in the pit and subsequently, nobody stood between me and the performers. I saw Jon’s band Bellowhead for the first time live earlier this year and their ‘Best Live Band’ label is definitely justified. This was obviously a different experience but no less powerful. Jon’s voice suited the music perfectly. Indeed, I might find it hard to listen to Mr Costello’s recording after a night like that. I felt completely transfixed by the stories of the letters and it certainly felt that the performers were thoroughly enjoying themselves. The Sacconi Quartet were flawless in their ability to express the poignant tragedy or playful comedy of each setting and by the time we, the audience were joining in for the chorus of the encore, we were hooked. Being so totally engaged in the music, only then did I realise that it was coming to an end. I felt a sudden panic that this experience might be over.  Please can they do it again?

Dave Yapp is a composer and sound designer at Films@59 http://www.filmsat59.com/

Marketing Officer and enthusiast for all things Classical, Megan Brand shares her thoughts on Day 2:

Jon Boden and Sacconi Quartet, photography by SWNS

“It had to look effortless”, was how Jane Gibson introduced the dance that would have originally accompanied Bach’s cello suites. It was this sense of effortlessness that, for me, pervaded day two of #BRISTOLPROMS.

A fly-on-the-wall perspective on the Dancefloor Bach workshop that had happened earlier in the afternoon was what was offered in the evening’s Studio Prom, bookended by solo cello from Peter Gregson. The most directly participatory of all the week’s events, it was heartening to see a group of dancers (with varying degrees of experience) immersing themselves in the challenge of responding to the iconic baroque music in a physical way. Perhaps an open invitation to stand and move to the closing suite would have enhanced the performance – especially in the context of the rule-breaking nature of #BRISTOLPROMS.

Tastefully staged and flawlessly sung, VOCES8 demonstrated the full gamut of their repertoire with this evening’s Theatre Prom. From the sultry to the sublime, the performance oozed class and effortless vocal brilliance. There was a lovely camaraderie as audience and singers migrated from Bristol Old Vic to St Mary Redcliffe, and the latent sense of theatricality I am always aware of in churches was breathed into life by this world-class ensemble. ‘Steal Away’ was particularly powerful, with a boldly proclaimed solo that seemed to be absorbed into every pore of the building.

Returning, elated, to Bristol Old Vic’s standing pit, it was difficult to imagine a performance to follow VOCES8, but the extraordinarily animated Sacconi Quartet, matched with the understated and unique musical talent of Bellowhead’s Jon Boden and the masterful arrangements of Elvis Costello and the Brodsky String Quartet, provided another perfect late night Prom. Boden owned the song cycle as if he had written each ‘letter’ himself, and seemed genuinely delighted to be performing alongside the charismatic and captivating Sacconi Quartet.

From over the water, Watershed’s Grace Denton reports on Hack the Quartet from Day 2:

To access the blog, click on the below image:

photography by Matt Davenport

For more information about #BRISTOLPROMS, click here.

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