Bristol Old Vic Sales Group Coordinator, Bristol Proms enthusiast and Daniel Hope super fan.
I don’t understand Classical Music. Each spring, when marketing meetings, planners, team updates and brochures start to fill with talk of Bristol Proms, I’m filled with the familiar dread of not only having to talk about, but convincingly sell large numbers of tickets for artists I’ve never heard of, by composers whose names are alien to me, performing pieces of music I’m only likely to recognise if they’ve featured in adverts for banks, or are played in elevators.
Compared to my colleagues who are much more ‘tuned’ into this kind of festival, I feel slightly like a fraud, not really deserving of a chance to book a ticket for an event others have waited years for.
To me though, this is precisely why I should be lapping up every opportunity Bristol Proms offers me. With no preconceived idea of what to expect, no impossibly high bar already set, I’m like a child, ready to experience a whole new world for myself.
It’s this clean slate, this unprinted brain, that has meant for the second year running, I’m completely enamoured with violinist* Daniel Hope. A list of the pieces he’d be playing on Bristol Old Vic’s website, a run through of all things Baroque, written with the intent of enticing audience members to book their tickets, meant nothing to me. My knowledge of Baroque goes as far as a joke made by the talking clock in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it). Instead, I’d been waiting 12 months to see him perform again, purely based on the incredible experience me and 500 audience members shared at the first Bristol Proms.
I wasn’t disappointed.
From the first moment, when the lights dimmed, and a solo drummer began playing from the Upper Circle, we all felt what we had felt last year, that this really wasn’t going to be the classical music experience a newcomer would expect. As the musicians made their way out of the audience and onto the stage, a motley crew of performers from around the world, we were reminded, as Daniel Hope casually ran through their collective accomplishments, just how incredible the talent that we’ve drawn to Bristol really is. And I’m getting to see them all, from a few feet away, for less than a tenner.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that the next two hours are a bit of a blur. It feels clichéd to say that I was ‘swept away’ by the music, but there really is no better way to describe the feeling of complete absorption that watching such energetic, passionate, and impossibly meticulous, violin playing brings. The explanation later in the evening, that playing pieces dating back nearly 500 years meant a level of improvising only achievable by people who knew their instruments better than they know themselves, only added to the feeling that what we were experiencing was a one-off, orchestrated entirely to please the hungry crowd, just as the Baroque players of the 17th century would have done.
We were offered the rough and ready, the music of pubs and taverns, music used to keep royalty happy, and to woo many a married woman. Each piece came with its own back story, described in the knowledgeable but humorous air that became familiar as the night wore on.
And it wasn’t just front man Daniel that impressed. The percussionist overwhelmed with his seemingly innate ability to pick up any instrument and play it like it had never been played before. Primary school children need no longer feel embarrassed to be relegated to tambourine player, they just need to see what they can do in the right hands. Even our introduction to more traditional instruments, including the lute (at what point in life do you decide you’re going to play the lute?) was incorporated seamlessly into a night of timeless music that would have been as much in place in a Saturday night back street bar, as a 17th century royal court.
This is why Bristol Proms has got me. Why it now has, and will always have, a special place in my heart. This isn’t about music genres, it isn’t about who knows what, or who, or how many fancy words you’ve picked up along the way. Its about the music, and the people playing it. I’m in no doubt that last night we were in the company of some of the most talented musicians around today, playing the music of the most talented musicians to have ever lived. I defy any aspiring performer, guitar player, drummer, even MC or DJ, to not find something to inspire them in those performances, be it mastering rhythm, reading audience reactions, or just seeing people do what makes their soul sing.
This is why Bristol Proms is so vital. If we can be so moved by music written half a millennium ago, surely opening this up to one more generation shouldn’t be too hard a feat.
* violinist is a word, I googled it