Sian is the Bristol Old Vic Young Company Producer and classical music newbie.
Last night I went to my very first classical music concert- and the first musician drew comparisons to Angry Birds, Bloody Marys and wore the sparkliest pair of disco brogues I have ever seen. I knew at that point I was going to be just fine…
I can’t deny that I did approach my first Bristol Proms with some trepidation – I have never had a particularly musical ear and classical music was a completely foreign world to me, how on earth was I going to fair being thrown in at the deep end with a week of concerts and genres I have never experiences before? There was plenty of rock, northern soul and pop music around my house growing up – but nothing classical and certainly no Bach! To be honest, I really needn’t have worried – Bristol Old Vic has created a brilliant and informal environment to house a week of performances that doesn’t in any way feel unapproachable or intimidating – in fact with all the exciting HP technology front of house and the Classic FM bods pitched up in the foyer the place has an incredible buzz about it and you kind of feel like you’re at a party – much more familiar territory!
I started my classical experience with a brilliant lecture (if you can call it that – it felt more like a relaxed, informal and informative chat) from Jonathan James about War and Music, which laid the foundations for the night ahead and gave an insight into the impact of war and changing society on the music of the early 1900’s. Jonathan pitched the talk perfectly to encompass the classic aficionados in the audience as well as the humble beginners, I found myself actually understanding what to listen out for and particularly what to expect from Howell’s Requiem that would be performed by the Erebus Ensemble later that night- with the additions of live and recorded music Jonathan brought everything to life and suddenly made everything feel very accessible – I only wish we’d had a little more time to probe further into the changing musical styles as the world became a more chaotic and violent place.
We then rushed into the main house for a stunning performance from Ji Liu, a classical pianist with a personality so likeable and infectious he had received several rounds of applause before he’d even played a note! Not to mention the fact that he was wearing possibly the most amazing pair of sparkly shoes I will see this year and an incredibly sharp suit! Drawing comparisons between having alcoholic cocktails and using a pedal to play Bach, he instantly won the audience around and made himself and his music very accessible. I have to be totally honest, I wasn’t 100% sure about Ji’s first performance, a rendition of John Cage’s 4’33”, which is a completely silent piece- the start and finish only indicated by the opening and closing of the piano cover. Although there was something very interesting about the sound of silence, particularly in a room of around 400 people with the noise of the seagulls outside and the traffic the only ambient sound, I’m afraid that my mind did begin to wander mid-way through the piece and I found myself perhaps feeling slightly uncomfortable- but then maybe that was the point? I was forced to consider the musicality of silence and that was something that perhaps many of us would find tough? He finished with an incredible rendition of Bach, the Goldberg variations which, besides from being very beautiful to listen to, he had completely memorised- it astounds me that he could remember so much and how fast his hands flew over the keys.
The final performance of the night came from John Tams and the Erebus Ensemble with ‘Songs that went to War’, I’ve always found the subject of war particularly fascinating and evocative- and now thanks to Jonathan’s lecture I had some information to work from, I was ready and prepared. The combination of folk music and choral singing was beautiful, perfect for a beginner like me. John Tams has a very relaxed and humble air about him that makes you just want to listen- his voice is beautiful and accompanied by his band he played some folk based war songs that we recognised and others that we didn’t- but all leaving a lasting mark about the brutalities of war and the human stories imbedded within. Then came the Erebus Ensemble, and as they slowly appeared from the back of the stage and amongst the audience, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I have never heard choral singing before and it completely blew my mind- the emotion and feeling they could evoke with just a few notes is amazing. As they finished their rendition of Howell’s requiem and the faces of those lost at war appeared at the back of the stage it was impossible not to be moved and taken back by the experience- the way the sound carried in the auditorium was awesome, I have never heard anything quite like it- their voices floated up into the fly tower and filled the auditorium with a wall of beautiful sound.
So, my first classical experience is over and it was every bit as insightful and exciting as I hoped- I didn’t feel at all out of place and I managed to follow and enjoy all the music, a success! What I’ve found is that it’s all about your individual reaction to the sound and there is no right and wrong- so sit back, listen and enjoy!