#BRISTOLPROMS: Day 3, Part 2 – Alistair Debling, Jonathan James, Dave Yapp, Grace Denton

Daniel Hope, photography by SWNS

Alistair Debling on Day 3 of #BRISTOLPROMS:

It’s the third day of the #BRISTOLPROMS and it feels as though the auditorium has never been so busy. All the seats are filled, the standing pit is thronging – there are even people standing round the back of the seats in the dress circle. The programming is clever, keeping us entertained with one of Vivaldi’s most exciting double violin concertos, a mellow new arrangement of a piece by one of his contemporaries, and a comic story for violin and narrator executed with good timing and humour by the soloist Daniel Hope. Through the interval the atmosphere bubbles, as the anticipation for what is to come builds and builds. Finally we are given what we came for, as Hope and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra unleash the masterwork that is Max Richter’s ‘Four Seasons Recomposed’. It is hard to explain why this reimagining hit the human heart the way it did, but as soon as the first movement of ‘Spring’ began I could feel my body surrendering itself to the music. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is possibly the closest music can get to being figurative, with each movement conjuring perfectly the tumultuous shifts in nature over the course of a year. Richter abstracts the great work once more; he makes strange the familiar, piecing together old memories of a once-loved story. He teases out the minimalist motifs and chord progressions found in the original score, pushing them to their maximum 21st Century potential. Perhaps the sensation of zooming in and out was just a side effect of the animated visuals, which drifted through a distorted landscape, but I got the impression that Richter was interested in preserving either each miniscule detail or the overall landscape of the music, while replacing the middle ground with his own rich and reflective voice. At its most sensitive, Richter strips away the accompaniment to searching harmonics, allowing melodies to sing out like lost friends. At its most explosive, he keeps the audience guessing by shifting stresses and accents, with the string ensemble ploughing through rousing chord sequences that inevitably lead to a standing ovation that wouldn’t leave until it heard an encore. As I exited the auditorium I looked around as friends and strangers grinned inexplicably, Vivaldi’s sizzling arpeggios still whirring in our ears, Richter’s story still clinging to our heartstrings. In the moment I took to collect myself I stopped and pondered the last time I left the theatre feeling so stirred.

Inspired and enlivened by what I have just witnessed, I decided to stay for The Bullet and the Damage Done. While Sleepdogs had a hard act to follow I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in the complex and brooding story told by Timothy X Atack. Using just a keyboard and some empty music stands he maps out the geography of the orchestra, the city, and a military coup in a fictional piece that rings unnervingly true. While Atack begins by disregarding the possibility of recreating a world through sound, as the pulsing score reverberates around the Theatre Royal one can’t help but see the churches, the plazas, the hotel room, and the gunmen. Evocative and provocative, The Bullet and the Damage Done was a testament to the power of music to build realities and question fictions.

Alistair Debling is a graduate of the Bristol Old Vic’s Made in Bristol programme and is currently studying at Harvard University in the USA.

Daniel Hope and The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, photography by SWNS

Jonathan James on Daniel Hope and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra:

Daniel Hope was Vivaldi, the ‘Red Priest’ incarnate and amongst us for one evening, down to the flowing red locks and shining charisma – just with an electronic music stand, a discrete Ipad-on-a-pole (I want one now!). With a superb programme that mixed old and new, Hope showed what the violin could do, attacking the music with infectious passion and goading the Royal Phil to an even more colourful response.The opening double concerto was Vivaldi on turbo-charge, a thrilling blow to the guts.  ‘Bariolage’ followed, a perfect ethereal and delicate counterfoil, followed by the light-hearted story-telling of ‘Ferdinand the Bull’, where you could see Hope was relishing the dual role of narrator-player.

In fact, you could see all the musicians were loving the atmosphere of the theatre and the tangible enthusiasm in the space.  It must be a real treat playing to an audience like that, enough to warm even the most hard-bitten gigging pro. 

I enjoyed the theatricality to the event and how Tom Morris and Hope engaged the audience with witty reflections on performance practice.  This has been a stand-out feature for me this week – the relaxed connection to the listener, and the ability to get the whole auditorium onside before the music has even started. 

Richter’s reconstruction of the Four Seasons was very well judged and a delight to listen to live, filmic and captivating.  The music is so clearly representational in itself, I would have preferred my inner cinema.  Apart from a moment where Hope’s violin seemed to kindle an on-screen log fire, I couldn’t really follow how the sound was prompting the image. That said, I applaud trying these things out, and the music is certainly robust enough not to be affected. Maybe a more abstract visual response that leaves us to fill in the gaps might have worked better, I don’t know.  It didn’t detract, in any case, from the vitality and power of the playing on stage.  On that front, it was a knock-out evening.

#BRISTOLPROMS Ambassador Dave Yapp shares his thoughts on Day 3:

Daniel Hope, photography by SWNS

Having just performed at the BBC Proms in London two days earlier, Daniel Hope took to the stage of Bristol Old Vic (for the main Proms) with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra for a concert selected by Vivaldi (as imagined by Hope). This time the visuals were created live by Play Nicely, the Bristol based technological artists that spectacularly summoned a troll from under the Clifton Suspension Bridge last Halloween (google ‘clifton troll’ to see the results).

In the first half, to get us going, we were given outstanding performances of Vivaldi’s Double Violin Concerto, Vivaldi’s contemporary Westhoff’s ‘Imitazione delle Campane’ (I always find it fascinating to track influences via lesser known composers) and the delightful ‘Ferdinand the Bull’ by English composer Alan Ridout. I knew this fantastic story from childhood and this narration with musical themes (a la ‘Peter and the Wolf’) was a lovely way to connect with the audience.

Not that they needed much persuasion to connect. This audience was definitely up for it. Our understanding is that when Paganini played at Bristol Old Vic nearly 200 years ago, the crowd would have been going wild. Not your typical modern classical music audience. And now, with Daniel Hope playing a violin that once shared the stage with Paganini, the crowd was certainly not holding back.

Max Richter’s Recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a refreshing transformation of a now slightly overheard piece. The visual landscape projected behind the performers (which gave the impression that they were inhabiting the landscape for us pit dwellers) felt like the equivalent of a live version of Disney’s Fantasia. The landscape responded to the music. Noticeably, in the first movement of Winter when the Orchestra is frozen in time, sounding like the resonating tones of ice formations, Daniel Hope’s violin was the warming melody that fueled the fire in the landscape behind.

The late night Prom that followed was our first actual dramatic work in the theatre this week (although the concerts had been obviously quite dramatic in themselves).  I was not familiar with the work of Sleepdogs or Timothy X Atack who had written, composed and performed the work.  I will certainly seek them out again, though.  ‘The Bullet and the Damage Done’ was a hauntingly brilliant piece.  Utilising the empty spaces behind the music stands where the RPCO had stood earlier in the evening, Mr Atack (that doesn’t sound right) gradually revealed his story of the orchestra that disappeared. This was a work of sonic beauty whether we were listening to the delicate grace of the birdsong of the tropical jungle, or the aural bombardment of the composer’s multi-layered sound collage to attempt to summon the missing orchestra.

An atmospheric way to end another highly-charged evening.

Finally, Grace Denton shares her thoughts on the second day of Hack the Quartet for #BRISTOLPROMS on Watershed’s blog. To read Grace’s blog, please click on the below image:

Hack the Quartet, image by Pete Fairhurst at Marked Up

To find out more about #BRISTOLPROMS, please click here.


One thought on “#BRISTOLPROMS: Day 3, Part 2 – Alistair Debling, Jonathan James, Dave Yapp, Grace Denton

  1. David Gifford says:

    Great performance of the re-imagined Vivaldi by Daniel Hope and members of the RPO, but where was the imagination in the dire visuals by Play Nicely? Dull, dull, dull… generic mountains, trees, two-bar gates; like left-overs from a second-rate cartoon film. Why so literally and boringly figurative? What we needed was a more interpretative, abstract response to the music, not the off-the-peg, stereotypical imagery on the level of a good GCSE art student with pretensions to become a video artist.
    I assume that Play Nicely are predominantly video game designers? It certainly appeared so. All they did here was provide a distraction to some inventive and virtuosic music making. The pre-ramble by one of the designers led one to expect something cutting edge and exciting. What a let down.

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