#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 5 – Prombassadors: Guy Withers

Guy Withers

Guy Withers

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

Jonathan James – Inside the Music Talk 3: “When East meets West”
Bristol Proms – Friday 1st August 2014

It was time for another Jon James talk and I was very pleased to see a large audience again and now somewhat of a following for the event. I recognised many familiar faces, and it is a testament to Jon James’ talks that people are eager to hear him again and learn more. I was interested to know whether there would be any socio-political angle to the afternoon’s talk and the following concert; considering we are talking about East meeting West, Israeli meeting Persian. Jon James picked up on it slightly, but inevitably decided that it wasn’t something he should say, and only let the music speak its own language – which turned out to be a lot.

Jonathan James

Jonathan James

It was a whirlwind trip around the world of music and how music has been influenced by different cultures all the way back to Haydn. What was music? Well, we started at a heartbeat; Jon James demonstrating with the group how natural and inherent the basic forms of music are within human kind. It was certainly plenty of new ideas for some, essentially the basis of ethnomusicology, but a very important aspect of musical knowledge that shouldn’t be over-looked. After discussing the drastic similarities between the music of County Cork and Buenos Aires, we moved onto more specifics, exploring the scales and musical elements transferred from Eastern traditions into Western ones. Jon James was able to discuss briefly Orientalism, the Russian Kuchka, Debussy and the importance of Colin McPhee as a composer and musicologist – someone I hadn’t been introduced to before.

It was quite a difficult talk to deliver, with the sheer amount of music and history to cover. Jon James worked very well as always to cover the most important aspects, but to be honest the talk could have gone on much longer. Portions were quite vague, but with the amount to cover I wasn’t expecting an in-depth exploration anyway. Again, I can’t fault his enthusiasm and ability to bring music alive for all that attended.

Avi Avital and Mahan Esfahani
Bristol Proms – Friday 1st August 2014

guy 1

Avi Avital and Mahan Esfahani

This concert presented some of the highest standard of playing I have seen at the Bristol Proms, but also at any concert. Avi Avital and Mahan Esfahani have come together for the first time, and within a singular day have rehearsed for a collaborative concert. A coming together of two worlds, both musicians hit it off immediately and by the end of the concert you could see a true friendship brewing. It was an intimate set up and both players were very cute in their quirky little way. The music was a mix of Baroque from around Europe, including all the masters, and was beautiful and intricate; they both played with such love for their individual instruments.

Some of the most intriguing pieces included the non-Baroque works in the programme. Takemitsu: Rain Dreaming, played by Mahan on the harpsichord, was a fascinating listen. Harsh and dissonant, it also had a rocking nature to it. A truly atmospheric piece, a difficult piece to play and to listen to, with some beguiling playing. I was very glad to hear some contemporary harpsichord music programmed. I have never heard a harpsichord played like that before, a totally new musical experience. Which is very rare in the musical world we live in today. Mahan is the very best harpsichordist I’ve ever heard. So virtuosic and florid and precise. Avi and his mandolin were a much more engaging pair. His piece was warmer too, an own composition full of his own heritage, fast paced and fun.

The concert played out like a little sitcom, the two playing off each other, in their music and in their conversation. They became very charming as the concert progressed, we began to like them a lot. They warmed to us and as they warmed to each other. A fascinating concert not only in the music.

Valentina Lisitsa – #ValentinaBristol: Music Party
Bristol Proms – Friday 1st August 2014

Valentina's party

Valentina’s party

What a strange and wonderful experience this was. Never have I ever felt so confused in a concert. This by the way was a very good thing. We must all be challenged and this is especially true in classical music. Valentina’s idea for the concert was to strip back the fourth wall and engage in a house party with sofas, balloons, YouTube clips and lots of chatting. One man made a phone call during some of the onstage chat between Valentina and Tom Morris, and no-one seemed to care. The whole experience felt more like a talk show, Tom Morris embodying something between Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross.

The centre-piece of the auditorium was the back wall of the space, where live tweets collected, classical memes included, and videos were played. It was by this kind of interaction that the audience decided, by online and ‘in the foyer’ votes, what Valentina would play, from a range of pieces offered. Valentina reiterated her vision for the concert and that music should be a social event, so why do we all wear uncomfortable tuxedoes and fossilize our classical music? I think she has a point, but the set-up certainly wouldn’t have gone down well with some. There is something to be said for dressing up and making an event of going to the theatre or to a concert. I think the formal aspect of this is still wanted and needed, but to break that apart once and in a while is fun and allows new audiences to be introduced to classical music.

The whole thing was quite out of control. I almost forget I was there to listen to her play – that we are there to listen to music, or were we? Was it just a party instead? It was certainly an enjoyable and accessible experience, but was it a profound one? Perhaps not in this context. When she finally did play, Valentina was dynamic and explosive, the Nyman in particular was exquisite.

#BRISTOLPROMS DAY 5 – Prombassadors:
Tim Eustace
Mark Edmundson
Alex Hamilton-Ayres

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