Bristol Proms – A Glorious Experiment: Prombassador Freddie Redding

An overview of the third night of Bristol Proms 2015

So far, this year’s Bristol Proms at Bristol Old Vic have been a great victory for accessible classical music, throwing convention and etiquette out of the window to make way for new and exciting ways of presenting music in ways that appeal to both the seasoned classical concert-goer and the curious first-timer. Last night’s shows truly manifested this idea of breaking down barriers and formality between the performer and the audience. The programme consisted of three events – first, a talk by Jonathan James, followed by a rip-roaring concert played by violinist and cellist Mari and Håkon Samuelson, and finally a late-night offering of trumpeter Alison Balsom and her band.

Speaker, educator and general musician extraordinaire Jonathan James kicked off the evening with an hour-long talk on ‘Patterns in Music’, the third of his ‘Six with Jonathan James’ Bristol Proms talks. Illuminating the ways in which patterns and mathematics are inherent in even (and especially) the most moving and emotional music, he piqued the interest of the audience for the following concert – ‘Pure Minimalist Baroque’ with Mari (a violinist) and Håkon (cellist) Samuelson. The Norwegian brother and sister played an extraordinary programme that juxtaposed 17th century baroque music and minimalist music of the last 50 years. They highlighted how, despite the vast differences of the two styles, both baroque and minimalist music take their beauty from exploiting patterns.

Photos by Jon Rowley

Photos by Jon Rowley

In his introduction of the show, Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris mentioned that the great Paganini (19th century violinist and arguably the first ever rock star). This had particular resonance as the curtain came up with a bang to reveal the silhouette of Mari Samuelson, violin in hand and dressed in tight leather, on a darkened and smoke-filled stage, playing the dramatic opening chords of Bach’s chaconne from the partita no.2 in D. One could not help but draw links between her and Paganini. The rest of the concert continued to have this kind of rock and roll flair, the pair joining forces for a particularly energetic and fresh version of Barriere’s sonata for violin and cello. The highlight for me was when the siblings were joined by members of Sinfonia Cymru to play a mesmerising performance of Arvo Pärt’s beautiful Fratres. They finished with an encore of Halvorsen’s passionate Passacaglia on a Theme of Handel, leaving the whole audience standing, clapping, cheering and stamping their feet. For me, and for many others, Mari and Håkon Samuelson were a true highlight of the proms.

Photos by Jon Rowley

Photos by Jon Rowley

After this, the audience packed in for ‘Late Night Trumpet’ with Alison Balsom, who proposed possibly an even more radical mixture of music! The audience was wowed by the scope of her musical ability and interest, her programme including transcriptions of baroque pieces by Vivaldi, jazz and even a toe-tapping piece that used a loop pedal. Throughout, she played a wide range of different trumpets, piccolos and even traditional Scandinavian horns. The atmosphere was relaxed and informal, and the audience loved it. This truly was proof that Bristol Proms are one of the country’s most forward-looking classical music events. I can’t wait to see what night four has in store for us!

By Freddie Redding

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