#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 2 – Prombassadors: Guy Withers

Guy Withers

Guy Withers

Guy Withers
Guy is an experienced tenor and theatre maker from Bristol.

Jon James – Inside the Music Series Talk 1: “War And Music”
Bristol Proms – Tue 29th July 2014

I know Jon James and his musical talks well. I was very glad to see that Bristol Proms have taken seriously musical outreach and the importance of connecting with audiences about the content of their concerts. The Paintshop was a perfect space, welcoming but also mysterious, to host a talk on the music of war and how it changed the course of Western Classical Music.

Jon James

Jon James

Although I presume the primary aim of the talks at Bristol Proms are to bridge the gap in understanding for the newly initiated, I found myself, someone with a degree in music, discovering new things about the music of war time Britain. Jon James’ talk was expertly aimed in, rather than discussing the details of a Stravinsky score, exploring what overarching effect the music and poetry written at the time had on the British people. I was very interested to learn of the differences in musical propaganda from around Europe in the early 20th Century and how the reality of war effected the music of composers like Ivor Gurney and Ralph Vaughan Williams. My one and only criticism, and a very small one at that, is that I would have loved to, instead of hearing a recording of the pieces which were discussed, have a live performance. Perhaps an opportunity for a young artist to sing, easily repeat and take apart sections of songs for the listening audience – what better way to captivate a group of people than to look them in the eye and whisk them away to pastoral England or the misty fields of Normandy.

Jon James’ talk was ever engaging on every level and wickedly funny. A real Bristol Proms Treat. I cannot wait to hear more of what he has to say in the coming days.

Ji Liu, Erebus Ensemble & Jon Tams
Bristol Proms – Tue 29th July 2014

An evening at The Bristol Proms

I was treated to another day full of an eclectic mix of music. Nowhere else do I think it possible to have such a variety of musical genres and performers on the same stage. First for the evening on the 29th July was young Chinese pianist Ji Liu. A man that delighted with florid Bach and sparkly shoes to boot! A most oddly arranged of programmes; Cage’s famous silent piece 4’33”, followed by an almost hour long performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The choice of Cage was an interesting one. I am sure Bristol Old Vic has never experienced a musical performance like it, but the piece is wildly overdone and somewhat of a cliché. Having experienced the piece before I wasn’t particular excited to experience it again. In fact what made the performance of Cage’s piece so thrilling that evening was the energy, joy and huge amount of fun Ji Liu brought to the stage. His dry wit and quirky nature warmed the audience, who totally invested in his performance and contributed in their own way to the silence. What followed was a masterclass in piano playing from Ji Liu. An exhaustingly long piece of variations on a theme that tested both the audience as well as the pianist – ‘A piece to make you go to sleep’ Ji explained. Although very long, Ji’s expert and emotive playing, highlighted by visual projections, triumphed overall. An odd concert, but a very enjoyable one.

Ji Liu performing Bach's Goldberg Variations

Ji Liu performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations

After a pint or two at the bar, with fellow Prombassador Jake Bright, it was time for Erebus and John Tams. A concert that was 2 hours in length with a short interval, presented such a variety of music all from the same wartime era. John Tams and his band, along with Artistic Director Tom Morris in discussion, lead the audience through the folk songs and popular songs of The First World War; some very well known to all of us, some very new to all our ears. Although not particularly my ‘cup of tea’, I was able to appreciate, by the amount the audience joined in, that these wartime songs meant very much to many people. Just when we were all set for an evening more akin to a pub gig, cue entrance, in grand and theatrical fashion, of The Erebus Ensemble. Chanting Medieval battle cries, The Erebus Ensemble, now grown in size from Monday’s Bach in The Dark, erupted in fine voice, piercing through the casual atmosphere and striking the hearts of all within the auditorium. The way in which the theatre of music was exploited in that performance is a testament to the compelling transformative power that music has. What followed after the break was quite magical. I was too speechless to tweet. The Howell’s Requiem performed in the hollow of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre was something to be heard; words will not do. I thank Tom Williams and the choir for an exceptional performance, and John Tams for sharing a part of history with us all.

The Erebus Ensemble in The Songs That Went To War

The Erebus Ensemble in The Songs That Went To War

#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 2 – Prombassadors:
Mark Edmundson

Meg Brand
Sian Henderson
Tim Eustace
Suzy Kingston & Hannah Dennis


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