Wednesday 8th June, 2011
I was asked to review today’s concerts, sooo…I did. I’m that kind of guy.
Lunchtime Concert: University of Manchester Chamber Orchestra
Despite a shaky start that didn’t quite achieve the intense drama of Mozart’s opening, the orchestra redeemed themselves with the Haffner Serenade’s Andante and Allegro assai, making for a very convincing and elegant performance overall. Special credit is due to Amy Heggart for her charming violin solo in the Andante, and to conductor Thomas Jarvis for reining in this piece’s very tricky corners.
Though deceptively difficult to play, Beethoven’s 1st Symphony was brilliantly delivered. The orchestra demonstrated that sound quality necessary for proper classical playing; a kind of glistening poise that is best defined by my old cello teacher’s word ‘zing‘. The wind section, though made up almost entirely of first-year students, was oozing with skill and musicality. Emma Fry led with enthusiasm and vibrancy, and Jamie Phillips’s conducting was a perfect mix of flair and clarity: one recurring flamboyant gesture can only be described as ‘jazz hands’, but seemed to fit the context perfectly, and the players certainly responded to it.
Beat the Rush Hour Concert: The Joy of Voice
A wonderfully varied exploration of different vocal music genres, this concert opened with Stravinsky’s harmonically unusual but beautifully expressive Mass. The medium-sized choir – formed specially for the occasion – injected the music and text with energy and fluidity, and were very ably led by Ben McKee and Timothy Langston.
With Les Chansons de Bilitis, final-year student Emily McDouall drew us into a much more intimate world, bringing honesty and drama to this sensual cycle. Her mesmerising voice was delicate and yet filled the hall, powerful without being overpowering.
Finally, the University of Manchester Barbershop Chorus changed the mood entirely. With an upbeat approach and careful attention to rich harmonic detail, they seemed to win the audience over without effort, partly thanks to Antoine Kaiserman’s energetic and engaging direction. They opened with traditional barbershop fare, and closed with an ambitiously bizarre though refreshingly hilarious encore: following an outburst of ‘Ah tick tock, ya don’t stop’ from an apparently ordinary concert-goer, a rousing a capella rendition of Color Me Badd’s I Wanna Sex You Up gradually unfolded.
Ad Solem – The University of Manchester Chamber Choir
A quality performance as ever from Manchester’s answer to the BBC Singers. The tone of the ensemble was rich, clear and nicely blended, while this evening’s various soloists all rose above the texture with style and grace. The three guest basses were inevitably necessary in a Russian-themed programme – Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, for example, features a few too many bottom B-flats for even the best student singers – and they added a magnificent new dimension to the choir, allowing for a luxurious overall sound.
Ben McKee, at the helm for the second time today, showed a real understanding of the music; he clearly knew exactly where he wanted to take it, and the choir obviously trusted him. Tonight’s concert, though Ben’s last, also marked the debut of David Young as director. His leadership, previewed in Edward Bairstow’s Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, was extremely promising and made it clear that Ad Solem are set to achieve exciting things in their 2011-12 season.
Tuesday 7th June, 2011
I’m writing this on a break between playing in one concert (Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings) and stewarding another (Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante). Later, I’ll go for a drink in the bar in the seminar room across the foyer, before attending tonight’s Big Band concert as a regular punter. And the next three days won’t be much different!
This is the wonder that is Estival 2011, Manchester University Music Society’s 33rd annual festival of music and art. The theme is the music of Russia, the highlight being Thursday night’s performance of Shostakovich’s heart-stopping 5th Symphony.
Pop along if you’re in Manchester – there are concerts at 1.10, 5 and 7.30 every day up to and including Thursday, but the music and general merriment basically goes on all day! Somehow, this festival manages to be educational without being dull; to be classical without being exclusive; and to have a ‘festival atmosphere’ without being a rowdy, drunken, muddy mess. Take that, Glasto.
Sunday 5th June, 2011
That concept works on so many more levels than you might first imagine, though. It’s not as basic as having puppets make racist jokes – although that does happen. And it goes beyond the puerility of making those same puppets have loud, energetic sex – although that definitely happens too.
But not only does Avenue Q use adult humour to parody a children’s format, it uses a child’s way of thinking to deal with everyday issues from a fresh angle. So through song, dance, puppetry and humour – traditionally tools for teaching literacy and numeracy to kids – grown-ups can learn about things like discrimination, unemployment and homophobia; perhaps even a little bit about the meaning of life.
I have yet to figure out the serious message behind this number, though…:
Thursday 2nd June, 2011
I met Cathy, Manchester International Festival‘s Marketing Director, earlier today to discuss the possibility of my helping her team out over the next few weeks. I left their King Street office with the seemingly Herculean task of promoting MIF amongst this city’s student population. Why Herculean? Because so few students have heard of the festival!
Armed with a zealous desire to preach the good news to the culturally poor of Manchester’s universities, and a good chunk of free time (my newfound courseworklessness affords me such luxuries) I sat down on a bench in front of Central Library and wrote the following article for submission to the Mancunion…only to discover that the student newspaper closed up shop a while ago for exams and summer. So I thought it would be best to blogify it rather than deprive the world of my message! Here goes…
A biennial celebration of art and culture that invades and pervades Manchester for two and a half weeks, costing several million pounds while bringing several more million into the local economy, and attracting over 200,000 people to over 20 events in over 14 venues around the city, could surely not have slipped through your radar. But have you heard of Manchester International Festival? If not, you’re far from alone.
Back for the third time this year, MIF 2011 will be even bigger and better than ever before. At least, that’s the impression I’m getting; I can’t comment on this with any real authority because I didn’t know the festival existed until a couple of months ago! But it’s absolutely huge, the colossal cultural elephant in the metropolitan room that is Manchester. This year it’s enlisting the talent of huge names like Björk, Snoop Dogg, Damon Albarn, Victoria Wood and even The Doctor. But despite its global reputation as the greatest festival that focuses on commissioning new work – be it visual art, music, theatre and/or dance – something is hampering students’ awareness of this groundbreaking sensation.
Perhaps it’s the very fact that, as a biennial festival, someone on a three-year degree course can only come across it a maximum of twice between freshers’ week and graduation. More likely, it’s that most students are at home while MIF is happening (this year it’s 30th June – 17th July). I wouldn’t dream of missing the action, though, even if it means spending a little less time at home this summer. As soon as I heard about it, I signed up to join the 400-strong team of volunteers that play a huge part in making the festival happen. Why is it that we students are so keen to spend three months at home, perhaps venturing out to a holiday destination but missing out on the amazing things that are going on in our university cities? After all, our relationship with these places is often not that close while we’re studying; why not make more of an effort when we’re free?
I think the bottom line here is that Manchester students miss out on great things like MIF because we just don’t get out enough! Alright, we get out enough to know where to get the most intoxicated for the least outlay; we might even be relatively familiar with the music scene; but how well do we really know Manchester? This whole rant is very hypocritical, I confess; I’ve still got a great deal to learn about this unconventionally beautiful city. But that’s the aim of the dissertation I’m about to start writing; I want to investigate whether Manchester has the cultural calibre to compete with the New Yorks and Viennas of this world. In other words, I’m hoping to prove why Manchester truly is international.