#BRISTOLPROMS – Prombassadors: Welcome to Bristol Proms!

Our Prombassadors give you a taste of the week ahead:

Guy Withers

Guy Withers

Guy Withers

I’m very excited to see what The Bristol Old Vic, and their musical juggernaut of a festival, The Bristol Proms, has got in store for me this coming week. Even though a native of Bristol, I must admit I am a Bristol Proms virgin, missing out totally on last year’s frolics. I have only experienced the similar, though much less adventurous, festivals of The Welsh Proms, at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, and The BBC Proms in London. This time around as a Prombassador I hope to take it all in, savour every moment and review, tweet, instagram, facebook and blog like a madman.

I admit I am impressed by the variety of the programme; a wide range of artists, genres and types of performances, from big names such as Bryn Terfel to relatively unknown and local ensembles. The whole ethos of the festival is to break down those supposed barriers between musicians, particularly those classed as ‘Classical’, and their audiences. In essence try to introduce a younger local audience to ‘Classical Music’. It’s certainly a worthy aspiration, though there is always a danger of dumbing-down your presentation and invariably offending more people than you seek to gain. I don’t expect for a second that this will be the case for The Bristol Proms, especially with Tom Morris at the helm. If anything, I am very pleased to see a Theatre Director, and a fantastic one at that, hosting a musical festival. Something I hope to write on a lot this week is the importance of the theatre of music, and I am so glad to see a night dedicated to this very subject – the final and most glorious night.

Every single element of the festival appears elegantly planned. The programme teases and invites it’s audience to explore a new and exciting world of music. Sinfonia Cymru in particular seek to fulfil this criteria, bringing their critically acclaimed nightclub-meets-chamber-concert performance ‘Unbuttoned’ to the proms on Thursday 31st. Other items I am particularly looking forward to include all The Erebus Ensemble’s performances – ‘Bach in the Dark’ sounds a fascinating evening – Jon James’ enlightening talks and the opera-tunity to see Dido & Aeneas on that Bristol Old Vic stage.

Keep watch, there will be a lot to see at this year’s Bristol Proms that is not to be missed.

Guy is an experienced tenor and theatre maker from Bristol.


Jake Bright

Jake Bright

Bristol has a sterling international reputation for music. I’ve spent the last two years playing with rock band A Doubtful Sound who originally hail from New Zealand. They suffered a huge loss in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and chose, of all the cities in the world, to move to Bristol because of its “world renowned underground music scene”. Things are going well for us – Bristol offers a great platform to build a reputation and refine our package without paying the gargantuan costs that our London based peers face. Bristol’s got a great vibe – Massive Attack call it home; the Pop Group were formed here; Tricky regularly references his heritage; art punks Zun Zun Egui honed their ‘Picasso Indie’ sensibilities here; and countless others (The Insects, Krust, Kosheen, Nick Kershaw; Pigbag; Reprazent) help us idolise the city’s legacy. We have a plethora of music festivals (Hit the Deck, Dot to Dot, Harbourside, Grillstock etc.) every year. AND we’re only an hour away from Glastonbury… On the surface, it seems idyllic.

I moved here in 2008 to study composition at Bristol University under the watchful eyes of John Pickard and Neal Farwell. I adored it. My teenage energy was appeased by the aforementioned storm of contemporary music, but there was a huge void. My classical appetite was not entirely satisfied. Playing in the orchestras and teaming up with my contemporaries to go to various performances was all well and good, but I didn’t feel pushed. I took solace in searching through record shops and reading interviews with contemporary composers and tracing their influences, but I never felt welcomed into the ‘musical museum’ of classical performance. It’s a hard nut to crack when you’re an 18 year old in an unfamiliar city…

I don’t think I was in a unique position. Classical music is a very difficult thing to be passionate about as a young man. It’s easy to feel patronised and under informed. Everyone older than you is mentioning a list of names from various countries and titles in various languages (“what’s that last piece called? De-bew-see’s La Cat-he-drall-en-glue-tee?”). I was always told off for being an ‘Indie kid’, naming bands that no one had heard of. I can tell you now, I definitely felt more intimidated by the reams of composers mentioned by Taruskin, Alex Ross and my lecturers than anyone’s ever felt while I’m reeling off my favourite producers from the last twelve months… I needed a one stop solution – somewhere to go that packed it all into one long experience which was educational, engaging AND cutting edge.

Cue the Bristol Proms. Held at Bristol’s famous Old Vic Theatre, it promises to be a spectacle to be remembered. The programme is packed and excellently paced. Howell’s Requiem, the mournful memorial to his son makes an appearance; Cage’s infamous 4’33” is rearing its controversial head; Will Gregory’s infinitely entertaining and eye opening Moog Ensemble is reinterpreting Bach; and John Elliot Gardiner himself is on hand to talk to us. Takemitsu, Terry Riley, Purcell, Matteis; everything is represented during the Bristol Proms. Jonathan James is also on hand to pin it all together – if you’ve never seen Jonathan give a lecture or talk, I urge you to do so in this context. The programming is nothing short of excellent, and Jonathan’s ability to elucidate and engage with a series of works is spectacular. His words will no doubt bring whatever you see to life.

Every day of the Proms is grouped sensibly and tastefully. There’s a night of Bach (interpreted in a contemporary context); a fantastic evening highlighting the history of Baroque Music that leads into an exploration of where we might go next; a close look at what the War did to music (I have no doubt this will be uplifting and harrowing in equal measure); and contemporary technology is well represented too. If anyone reading this is still unsure as to whether or not they should go, I urge you to find something in the programme. If you can’t choose, pick at random. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy whatever you see. And take your kids. There’s even a workshop for the really young ones. If you’re worried about feeling under prepared, don’t worry! There will be (sharp intake of breath) talking and explanations between pieces in some performances!

In my youth, I worked under a conductor who always referred to the audience as ‘The Great Unwashed’. This attitude is what scared me and tends to be the consensus that puts the younger generation off. The Bristol Proms counteracts that. It presents a fantastically inviting and dynamic environment not only to hear music, but to hear about music. It’s never going to be a one stop solution to bridging the void between the young generation and contemporary classical music, but it is going to be one hell of a doorway for anyone looking for a way down the musical rabbit hole…

Jake is currently writing a ballet alongside acclaimed violinist Diana Yukawa, a piano suite, a selection of commercial records and a plethora of short and feature length films.

Bristol luvs all classics of music (Bristol Proms Brizzle Style)

Every night of the week, one can find a plethora of performances from buskers to street circus acts, Edgy and street wise yet classic, Bristol city is riddled with talent most noticeable (due to their loud and self-promoting nature) in the arts, especially in music.

From Classical to Electronica, from Jazz to Drum-Step; the Bristol music scene attracts performers from all over the globe, from all walks of life and style, whom are drawn to it’s melting pot of fusion, experimentation and exploration of a sound escape shaped by the history of a city that is learning to be the epitome of British eclecticism.  Yet never neglecting it’s history. Bristol by nature is a trading hub, where people share, barter and gain their skills, their ideas, knowledge.  Musicians know how to mix it up in Bristol, they will try anything new, as well as matured aged classics, the Bristol audience is used to a barraged of revamped, renewed, rediscovered and native or alien originated music, originally created sounds or sampled; Bristol’s music scene is deeply rooted with in it’s music history, a story that extends for hundreds of years and is told every night in the bars, cafes, halls, venues and theatres. And in doing so, music is reinvented, revisited with fresh ears and new ideas of old and future past. And so one of the most prestigious theatres in the city Bristol Old Vic in collaboration with Universal Music Arts and Entertainment, HP and Classic FM present to Bristolians one such event, where one can time travel on the spot when hearing that Daniel Hope is playing in the same spot the great Paganini once played (or at least one could learn whom Paganini was and that indeed he played in Bristol) while being treated to a new breed of Classical music which seeks to evolve with the times and technologies bringing new scope and meaning to the classic sound, wanting to involve old and new audiences that love music, in all of its forms.

Bristol folk know that now days one could spend the afternoon having a blues jam at The Old Duke, to then witness Will Gregory’s Moog Ensemble (electronic Symphony) in the Old Vic Theatre, to finally end up shaking the night away in one of the city’s numerous night clubs. All in all Bristol appetite for musical diversity, variety and historical development will inevitably welcome The Bristol Proms as a fresh music festival of classical value.

P.s. As a discrete opera goer,  I can’t wait to hear Bryn Terfel’s  booming voice.

Blog by Mao B (aka Mc SpeakGringo/immigrant Swing)


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