Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Stringfever’s show reinvigorates the concert experience November 10, 2010

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I discovered Stringfever on YouTube and on Monday 8 November went to see their show at Epsom Playhouse Theatre.

While the audience mainly consisted of the mature middle-class, there was a notable scattering of ‘young’ people: either teenagers coming with their parents or young professionals coming in groups of friends. I counted roughly 20 ‘young’ people out of an audience of around 300. Their manager Trevor Eyles emphasised the band’s broad appeal as they perform in venues from retirement homes to colleges.

I was struck by the slick nature of the show. The fact that they tour with the same programme has enabled them to produce a highly polished performance, particularly in regards to stage presence. The repertoire was confidently memorised which in turn meant that they were able to play out to the audience with an assortment of facial expressions and stage antics. Though the shiny suits and patent black shoes are not to my taste, their matching outfits turned the performance in a show with all aspects are taken into consideration.

Stringfever also successful communicated with the audience. This was evident in the spoken introductions to the repertoire as well as the musicians’ ability to portray they individual and distinct characters on stage. I think Ralph Broadbent’s dialogues were well balanced between informative and accessible. He introduced the works simply by giving a bit of background information like the piece’s original orchestration and then slowly incorporated any composers’ names or technical terms before giving the full formal name of the composition. I enjoyed how Neal Broadbent helped bridge the music and the dialogue by sustaining a pulse on the cello. Furthermore the false clap was very tactfully dealt with to diffuse any air that it mattered if you clapped in the wrong place.



Aurora Orchestra: reaching new audiences October 10, 2010

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After hearing their family concert at the BBC Proms, I looked up the Aurora Orchestra and read about their Yankee Doodle Concert. I immediately booked tickets as I thought it looked fun, but I realised that once I got to the concert on 9 October I didn’t know which pieces they were playing. This highlights how that managed to market the concert beyond the composers and piece titles.

I thought the concert was fantastic, it received good applause from the audience and it was a different type of concert experience – one firmly in the C21st.

Notably in the audience there were several children. However the ages of the audience ranged from the white haired to young professionals. I heard my neighbours whispering a little throughout the concert and I remember the young girl of around 10 years saying ‘How do you know when it has finished’. Though the concert experience had been made approachable through the film, there was still enough to puzzle a 10 year old about the format of the concert.

The concert featured music around an American theme and several of the pieces had accompanying film footage. I particularly enjoyed the Carnival of the Animals with the variety of the different animations from the students from Central St Martins. They were frequently comical and refreshingly got the audience laughing. Obviously the sketch of Tom and Jerry was also a highlight of the evening. Amusing the pianist representing Tom had a cat tail poking out of his black tie and he comically mimicked the cat’s expressions.



Penguins allowed at the Proms September 20, 2010

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When flicking through the Proms booklet, the photo of the Penguin Cafe always caught my eye. The group looked a bit quirky and as it was a Late night prom I expected something a bit different. Even when I mentioned the group to friends, they had heard of the group or had a vague notion of who they were (which is not a usual occurrence when telling friends about a concert I am attending).

My anticipation had not been misguided, as the concert was certainly uber cool. I attended the prom on Wednesday 8 September with my friend Emma (a beginner ukulele player) who is currently setting up a band www.emmadaianwright.com/band/. The Penguin Cafe were different, a bit anti-classical and with their vintage clothes certainly had stage presence.

I excitedly we heard about how the original founder of the band, Simon Jeffes became disillusioned with the rigid structures of classical music and the limitations of rock music. You can read more about his philosophy at http://www.penguincafe.com/. He consequently started to compose a new style of music, which is a cross between folk and minimalism. Interestingly, this shows how my own tiring of classical music is not new, as in the 70s people were feeling the same thing.



PROMS PLUS is the best bit of the Proms September 1, 2010

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Proms Plus: Family Music Intro

The BBC Proms has developed a series of introductions to its evening concerts. The Family Music introductions are aimed at young people, but this does not stop people of all ages attending. While aimed at newcomers, I suspect that many a seasoned concert attendee does and should attend.

The idea is to introduce the works, players and background in a fun and lively manner, so that you can then go onto listen to the main concert better informed. It is an ideal time for families at 5.30pm, as they can come straight from school. However, I saw many a family did not stay for the evening performance. The Proms plus is enough of an event in itself – you get to hear all the best tunes, the funniest facts about the composers and even play along with the professionals. What else would you want? Plus it is more intimate as you can get up close to the players and it is less overwhelming then listening to a full orchestra. It makes you question why you would want to go to the main concert, especially as Proms Plus events are free.

I attended the Family Music Introduction to Proms 44 on Wednesday 18 August. Fraser Trainer presented the concert/talk in an informal and humble manner with 3 members of the Russian National Orchestra – a violinist, flautist and trumpeter.



To cry or not to cry August 29, 2010

How emotional do we/can we/ should we get at concerts?

Classical music is emotive, but there is this problem that you are meant to go through an inner psychological journey, rather than outwardly expressing this journey.

This may not be helped by our British culture. Imagine a stranger wailing on your shoulder at a concert. You just wouldn’t know what to do!

  1. Do you offer a hankie?
  2. Reprimand them and tell them to keep a stiff upper lip?
  3. Or do you ignore them and hope the problem will go away?

I found myself at the Prom on Sunday night where Sir John Eliot Gardiner was conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Greig’s Piano Concerto was simply beautiful and I constantly struggled to hold back my tears. To be fair I was feeling emotional before I entered the concert hall, but none-the-less the music augmented this feeling.

I was in a quandary: to cry or not to cry? Was is socially inappropriate? Will people think I am silly for crying or a fool for letting my emotions run so array?



Late Night Prom looks outside the ‘closed classical box’ August 27, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 10:03 am
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Last night I went to the coolest Prom yet! Jamie Cullum with his four piece band joined the Heritage orchestra for what turned out to be cross between a civilised concert and hot and steamy jig.  

The audience was predominantly composed of 20-35 somethings (especially in the packed promming arena) but I was impressed by the number of ‘oldies’ who braved the concert. While the Proms aims to introduce newcomers to classical music, last night I think it actually introduced many to jazz. Due to my sheltered ways, I’ve certainly never been to anything like this and it was eye opening to see of the mixing board on stage and the staged drama, which included two fishermen at the start of the set. Not only did Jamie draw in a predominantly younger audience, but he pulled in a packed auditorium (which can’t be said for all the late night proms).

However, the audience’s classical background was evident in the polite twitters in response to Jamie Cullum’s performance antics. It must have been a bit of a shock to some to see so much exuberance on stage. Jamie frequently got up to dance at the front, stood on the piano and even did a flying run across the stage. Towards the end Jamie had charmed the audience and had everyone clapping and singing along, the arena had turned into a jumping pit and people were even dancing in the boxes!   



Children’s concert: The Four Corners of the World August 1, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 3:23 pm
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I attended the culmination of a project run by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra called The Four Corners of the World on 13 July. Three schools where involved in the project lead by an animatuer and nine musicians. They worked on a curriculum-driven project based on folk legends and mythology. The concert was a chance for the parents to see their hard work and hear each classes’ composition.