Friday, 13 May 2016

PREVIEW: Prestigious Double Concerto Series with Tamsin Waley-Cohen – Forum Theatre, Malvern (Wednesday, 25 May 2016, at 19:45)

Selected by Birmingham’s Town Hall Symphony Hall as the British nomination for the prestigious European Concert Hall Organisation’s Rising Stars programme in the 2016/17 season, Tamsin has been described by The Times as a violinist “who held us rapt in daring and undaunted performances” and by The Guardian as a performer of “fearless intensity”.

Certainly not just once in a lifetime – but, nonetheless, remarkably infrequently – an artist crosses your path who completely redefines your definition of the possible. Such occurrences, therefore, rise easily to the surface of your mind, unbidden; and, in my case, can be counted on the fingers of one hand:

  • Maurizio Pollini playing Schoenberg’s Five Piano Pieces as an encore at the Edinburgh Festival…. These pieces suddenly emerged, butterfly-like, from their atonal cocoon, as the most beautiful ever written. (I was on the front row, trying not to cry. Having just learned to play them – yet not in any way like this… – it felt like the most personal of messages.)
  • My much-missed friend, Michael Rippon, shredding every sinew in his body (and mine) – stretching his Rembrandt-like features, and remarkably sonorous voice, to the limits (and possibly beyond) – projecting (the also much-missed) Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King with such savage, yet empathetic intensity, accompanied by the composer’s own group, The Fires of London. I had not known that music could be made to do this: to transcend the bounds of theatre and emotional evisceration. Never before or since has such a work hurt so much… – and yet delighted me with its commitment and originality.
  • Marin Alsop unleashing the full powers of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Elgar’s Second Symphony. I was sat behind the brass and percussion. The balance was therefore so very wrong. But, finally, finally, I knew that this was how this greatest of symphonies must be performed. (That I got a hug from Alsop, subsequently, for weeping from first bar to last, only reinforces the memory, of course. But she is the only conductor I know – apart from David – who personally thanks every single member of the orchestra, afterwards: wandering the stage with a smile and that sincere personal touch.)
  • Finally, of course, I have to mention David again… – but with the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra – digging hard and deep into the very heart of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony…

Thursday, 5 May 2016

PREVIEW: A Scandinavian Serenade – Birmingham Town Hall (Wednesday, 11 May 2016, at 14:30)

Adapted from a review of the same programme at Stratford ArtsHouse (2 December 2015).

Billed as “a serenade with a Scandinavian flavour and a Shakespearean twist”, this is a concert which, on the surface, seems devoted to the warm sun of encroaching summer… – and yet isn’t afraid to probe what hides in the resultant shadows; or even stay outside when the clouds roll over and threaten to burst.

All of the Grieg pieces – the famous, ecstatic, opening Holberg Suite; the Watchman’s Song, from Macbeth; and his Two Elegiac Melodies – are sensationally full of life (replete with its ups and downs). Here is a composer who wrote a lot more wonderful (and sometimes darker) stuff than just his famed piano concerto; and it seems that the more intimate the setting, the greater his power. In other words: music perfectly suited to David and his merry band of minstrels (above, in rehearsal). Playing Grieg plays to their innate strengths… – so expect an inspiring, luminous, resonant clarity that only comes from such chamber-compactness: each line, each texture, audible; each dynamic, each measure, “tight and yare”.