Friday 7th October, 2011
Having a tendency to tweet reviews of concerts, I posted this 129-character summary immediately after the Manchester University Music Society’s ‘Welcome Concert’ last Saturday:
Great start to the @MUMusicSociety season. Burgess, Bizet and Bernstein were explosive, extravagant and enchanting, respectively.
And that’s really all I need to say; for me this was an ideal programme, particularly for the opening night of the season, a prime example of the wide range of music that the Music Society delivers.
More important, though, is that the players were able to do justice to this fantastic but difficult repertoire, from the exuberance of Burgess’s The Glasgow Overture to the haunting second movement of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.
I know for a fact that there’s plenty more where that came from; bring on the rest of the 2011-12 MUMS season.
Monday 19th September, 2011
I went on tour with the Manchester University Symphony Orchestra back in July. Seb asked me to write a piece about it for the Music Department’s website, and I thought I’d stick it on here since I didn’t write anything at the time.
Nothing stirs up excitement amongst a group of musicians quite like the prospect of a tour. From orchestras to brass bands to pop acts – amateur or pro – no one can resist this sublime combination of road trip, concert series, holiday and party. And so it was no surprise that the mood around the Martin Harris Centre was nearing fever pitch as soon as our exams were over, such was the anticipation for the Manchester University Symphony Orchestra’s European tour in July.
The chosen settings for our concerts (following a warm-up rendition of Mahler 5 in Manchester for the Not Part Of Festival) were Heidelberg and Prague. Heidelberg’s picturesque Rhine-side cobbled streets, student-friendly since before it was cool to be student-friendly, were a wonderful contrast to the touristic grandeur of the Czech capital. The latter’s magnificent Municipal House not only looked incredible but also enhanced the already beautiful sound of the orchestra.
One of the biggest highlights of the trip was, unusually, part of our marketing strategy – flashmobs. We would gather in the cities’ main squares, set up instruments, blast through Jupiter while some of us frenziedly distributed flyers, then pack up and move on. Not only was this great fun, but it also made a significant difference to our audience numbers, with many of the faces we saw in the evening recognisable from those we’d seen in the afternoon.
Elated, emotional, exhausted, we returned home to unload the instruments, go our separate ways, and get on with our well-earned summer holidays.
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.