#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 3 – Prombassadors: Guy Withers

Guy Withers

Guy Withers

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

Jon James – Inside the Music Series Talk 2: ” Beethoven’s Visionary Quartets”
Bristol Proms – Wed 30th July 2014

Although neither a fan of Beethoven’s music or string quartets, Jon James, as ever, engaged me and the surrounding listeners with his sheer overflowing passion for music. The aim of the talk was to discuss not only the music of Beethoven’s late quartets, Op132 particularly, to be played later by The Sacconi Quartet, but to build up a picture of the great man. Using a mixture of academic quotes, Beethoven’s own letters and musical examples, we were able to track the progression of a composer from Mozart to maverick, adding personal context to his work. We were blessed to have members of The Sacconi Quartet present, who willingly engaged in the debate about Beethoven’s music. How lucky were we. Providing great insight into preparing, rehearsing and performing Beethoven’s op132, The Sacconi Quartet and Jon James were able to create a unique opportunity for the listeners present to immerse themselves within the music.

Jon James

Jon James

I was very glad to see some younger members of the audience, that then succeeded to attend the very performance that followed as well. Jon James’ style is all encompassing. Not a lecture, more of a casual chat, but one that makes you think and question what you know and what you think you know about classical music. We discussed chromaticism, a new concept for some in the audience, and why it is placed in music – to colour the soundworld with longing and suffering? Was Beethoven’s op132 an allegory for ill health and the battle for recovery? who knows, but it is important to make meaning in music. And even if you don’t adopt Jon James’ metaphors, the process of making meaning the music you make and listen to is in my mind one of the most important aspects of musical life. Jon James is undoubtedly a passionate communicator, bringing all music alive; resurrecting before us Beethoven the music and the man.


Sacconi Quartet – Beethoven 132
Bristol Proms – Wed 30th July 2014

Sacconi Quartet

Sacconi Quartet

Back in the dark, though this time with The Erebus Ensemble, The Sacconi Quartet presented Beethoven’s late quartet op.132. The premise of the performance was to explore how a cinematic environment can be created to help evoke the imagination and emotion that comes with the music. A relatively intimate setting was make even more intimate with close up cameras capturing every delicate expression on the player’s faces and displayed as large projections hanging from the ceiling. Members of the quartet discussed Beethoven’s piece in Jon James’ talk, describing the work as ‘A new journey every time. The same mountain to climb but new weather each time.’ We were able to follow them all the way to the greatest of heights. An immersive set up, with the quartet in a circle rather than any more traditional formation, allowed us to peak into their own personal worlds as they played the most breathtaking of pieces.

One unfortunate let down were the cameramen. Working very hard to achieve fantastic angles with the players, they were at times loud and cumbersome with their equipment. This made the most effective movement, the third and most beautiful, the one without them. The playing was phenomenal. I don’t have much experience in instrumental music, even less so in quartet playing, but I could easily understand, appreciate and marvel at the connection and communication between the group. So involved in the performance were the audience, you could feel the catharsis emitting from the room. More than any proms so far, I was able to ride along with The Sacconi Quartet as they took us on a musical journey. Again this is where I think the importance of the ‘Theatre of Music’ should be reiterated. The concert was so successful because of its ability to connect with an audience through a musical narrative. It highlighted how good The Sacconi Quartet are and how reinventing musical presentation can creating wonderfully new and emotive experiences.


Charles Hazlewood’s All Star Collective / danceroom Spectroscopy – A Rainbow In Curved Air
Bristol Proms – Wed 30th July 2014

Charles Hazelwood's All Star Collective

Charles Hazelwood’s All Star Collective

Who can say that Bristol Proms isn’t the most diverse, varied and exciting musical festival in the world. I am blown away by the range of musical performance presented at the festival, and Charles Hazlewood’s All Star Collective and danceroom Spectroscopy is just one branch of that crazy musical tree. More like a nightclub or rock concert than a classical prom, Charles Hazlewood and the team presented A Rainbow in Curved Air, a piece written by experimental music and classical minimalism pioneer Terry Riley in the 1960s. The piece, somewhere between Philip Glass, psychedelic late period Beatles and The Rolling Stones, was an almost hour long musical trance. It’s the first time this week I’ve been compelled to dance, and I did. Danceroom Spectroscopy in collaboration presented accompanying kaleidoscopic projections that mimicked the mood of individual moments with florid, colourful patterns.

Less of a concert, maybe more of an experiment, the performance required a huge amount of stamina not only from the performers but the audience as well. Perhaps not the most easy of pieces to listen to, what made me stay until the end was the compositional nature of the performance. Much of what was played was of course based on Terry Riley’s piece, but in practice what we were witnessing was an entirely new permutation and configuration – created live in the moment. It was the kind of evening Bristol Proms should be remembered for, I doubt I will experience anything quite like it again.

#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 3 – Prombassadors
Lina B Frank

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