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

Bristol Proms: An interview with Sacconi Quartet

Friends of Bristol Proms, and Bristol Old Vic Associate Artists, Sacconi Quartet make a triumphant return to the festival with BEETHOVEN IN THE DARK and HEARTFELTAlways pushing the boundaries of chamber music, we caught up with Robin Ashwell ahead of their performances to see what they have in store for their lucky audiences…

Sacconi Quartet - Photo by Mark Douet

Why have you chosen this particular repertoire for Bristol Proms?

These two quartets by Beethoven – opus 131 and 132 – express human emotion unlike any other piece of music.  Written at a time of desperate illness and deafness, Beethoven plunges us into the full highs and lows of being human through these pieces, and forces the listener to confront who they are and why they are here.  In opus 132, Beethoven entitles the central slow movement Hymn of Thanksgiving to the divinity, from a convalescent.  Through the use of robotic hearts and interactive lighting, musicians and listeners alike will share in the experience of those extreme emotions in a way that has never before been undertaken.

Have you performed any of these pieces before?

We have performed both the pieces many times before – we wouldn’t be able to perform opus 131 in the dark if we hadn’t!  When we’re performing Beethoven, more than any other composer, I feel that his presence is with us on the stage.  His music is so emotive and so extreme that it seems to take you over, to possess you, and when it’s all over you feel wrung out and exhausted.

Which moments within the music are you most looking forward to performing? 

The Hymn of Thanksgiving in opus 132 is amazing to play, every time.  Time seems to stand still, and even the smallest gesture or statement is stretched over an incredible length of time.

What music do you most like to listen to?

The four of us in the quartet listen to a massive range of music.  Lately I have been listening to early music group Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, violinist John Holloway and singer-songwriter James Varda.  I am also a devoted Stones fan.

On a more personal note, what do you do to relax?

Spend time with my wife and daughters!  There’s never enough of it.  Usually we get out into the country or to a nice house with gardens, and if we can tie that in with a good steam train ride then the day is complete!

Photo by Mark Douet

Returning to the Bristol Proms, the Sacconi Quartet will perform Beethoven in the Dark in Bristol Old Vic Studio on opening night at 6.45pm. They will also perform Heartfelt in the Studio on Thursday 30 July at 6pm. As the Quartet play, 50 audience members will hold beating robotic hearts that mirror the musicians’ heartbeats, offering a more intimate connection between with the performers than ever before in a classical music concert. Snap up your tickets, and your heart, here.

Bristol Proms: An interview with Jan Lisiecki

After being filmed from every angle during his Bristol Proms 2013 performance, phenomenal Canadian/Polish pianist JAN LISIECKI returns to Bristol Old Vic’s intimate auditorium, this time exploring an emotional journey from the crystalline abstraction of Bach to the dark passion of Rachmaninov…

Jan Lisiecki

Why have you chosen this particular repertoire for Bristol Proms?

The concert will present a journey through time, presented from the angle of piano music. I believe the repertoire I have chosen is interesting, invigorating, and exciting. I hope it will give the audience a chance to have a remarkable evening with classical music.

Have you performed any of these pieces before?

Every performance is memorable in its own right. That evening, instrument, and audience, all work together to make it special and one-of-a-kind.

Which moments within the music are you most looking forward to performing?

I love performing Bach. His music is pure, emotional, restrained, all simultaneously.

What music do you most like to listen to?

The gift of classical music is that there is a piece for every mood and a composer for every day. It is a wonderful thing that every person, hearing the same interpretation, will find their own story within.

On a more personal note, what do you do to relax?

I like skiing, reading, watching movies, and getting to know every city I visit.

Jan Lisiecki will return to Bristol Proms to perform From Purity to Passion in Bristol Old Vic Theatre on Thursday 30 July at 7.30pm. Snap up your tickets here.

Bristol Proms: An interview with Alison Balsom

Fresh from stunning commuters at Paddington Station as she launched this year’s Bristol Proms, renowned trumpeter ALISON BALSOM will play on Bristol Old Vic’s stage for the first time during the festival.

Alison Balsom - Photo by Maker

Why have you chosen this particular repertoire for Bristol Proms?

Because it feels like an ‘anything is possible’ type festival.

Have you performed any of these pieces before?

The very first concert I played in my first year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama was this Britten Fanfare in St Paul’s Cathedral with my two fellow first year friends. When we were first asked we thought it was a joke! St Paul’s has a seven second echo.

Which moments within the music are you most looking forward to performing?

I can’t deny that I’m very much looking forward to doing my first ever concert with a looper – and playing along with several versions of myself to hopefully inspire people to get up and dance…

What music do you most like to listen to?

I love listening to Bach – but it has to be great performers – stylish, and historically informed, as so much of the responsibility for the magic is given to the player in each new performance of his works.

On a more personal note, what do you do to relax?

Renovate my house. I’m a bit obsessed. I look at interior design websites almost every night before I go to sleep.

Photo by Maker.

Late Night Trumpet with Alison Balsom will play as part of Bristol Proms in Bristol Old Vic Theatre on Wednesday 29 July at 9.45pm. Snap up your tickets here.

Bristol Proms: An interview with Hakon and Mari

Norwegian brother and sister duo, made up of violinist Mari and cellist Hakon Samuelsen, have forged an impressive international performing career. We caught up with them ahead of their Bristol Proms debut next week.

Hakon and Mari - Photo by Ricardofoto

Why have you chosen this particular repertoire for Bristol Proms?

We’ve chosen this program partly because there are pieces from our new album Pas de Deux that we’re very proud of and want to share with the Bristol Proms audience, and also because it shows how minimalism like Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt can be combined with music that’s written several centuries ago, like Vivaldi and Bach.

Hakon and I have actually equal interest (thank God) in all sort of repertoire, but still a quite different approach to it, musically, so even if we both play something which is composed more or less at the same time, and even by the same composer, it’ll sound quite different… but once we play a piece together, our two voices becomes one. At least we try to do so!

Have you performed any of these pieces before?

We’ve performed this programme quite few times, not put together like this though. Except the Einaudi piece, which is quite fresh, we just got to know it last year before the recording with the Liverpool Philharmonic. It’s called Divenire and might be familiar to many people from films. It’s especially arranged for violin, cello and orchestra by Paul Bateman for us, and we immediately fell in love with when we played it the first time. Fratres by Arvo Pärt is always a very special piece to perform, it forces you into a very hypnotic mood, almost meditative, and it’s challenging in many ways. I remember playing it at our annual Christmas concert in Norway, and there was such an exceptional atmosphere in the church, the audience of more than thousand people were completely quiet and we felt like wizards performing it.

Which moments within the music are you most looking forward to performing?

We’re very much looking forward to performing this full programme, in this very combination, and working with Sinfonia Cymru!

What music do you most like to listen to?

We both listen to very different music. It all depends what mood we’re in, and what the occasion is, but we try to listen to as wide range of styles as possible. From early renaissance to the top of the hit lists today. Hakon loves the Rolling Stones though… I think we both watched the Martin Scorsese film Shine a Light in the cinema 5 times or so. We believe in learning from musicians across genres, and also get inspired by people doing completely different things than playing music.

On a more personal note, what do you do to relax?

Be outside! We both love nature, so Autumn is a time where we try to take some time off to live in the forest. We grew up on a farm north of Oslo, close to the Olympic city Lillehammer, so cross country skiing has been a natural part of our lives since we were children. We try to stay fit, it helps when performing on stage. We like doing things that take us out of our daily routines, so just drinking coffee with friends isn’t really our thing. Needs to be filled with action and adrenaline. Then we can relax.

Photo by Ricardofoto.

Hakon and Mari play Pure Minimalist Baroque as part of Bristol Proms with Sinfonia Cymru in Bristol Old Vic Theatre on Wednesday 29 July at 7.30pm. Snap up your tickets here.