Tag Archives: Bridgewater Hall

Gilbert and Sullivan?

On Friday night Daughter called and asked if I’d heard of Gilbert and Sullivan

I had.

She said she might go to a concert the next evening, as one of her friends at uni plays for the G and S society there. I said that sounded like fun, and directed her to YouTube for some musical samples. When she found they were ‘responsible for’ The Elements Song, she decided it might be all right.

Then when the Resident IT Consultant and I were doing the wine and water thing at the Bridgewater Hall on Saturday afternoon, we looked at our programme and I remarked that some G and S would have fitted in nicely. The Resident IT Consultant (who consults facebook for everything) said that the concert Daughter had mentioned was to fund a trip to Buxton, which for us felt strangely close to home.

That’s when the lady across the table from us said she could tell us the date. Which was strange. We thought she might be from Buxton. But no, she was just the most ardent G and S fan, and she knew whoever was running the concert Daughter was going to.

After our concert and before hers, Daughter phoned to say her friend was ill and she no longer felt like going. I said we’d just spoken to some G and S fans and she simply had to go. (I mean, that’s clearly a good reason.)

She went. I received a text to say she was the youngest in the room, and that it was ‘the church hall lunch’ all over again. But I couldn’t help noticing on facebook that she was enjoying the concert. Perhaps old people aren’t totally hopeless after all?

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Played by ‘real people on real instruments’

There we were, the Hallé’s Andy Ryans and his ‘cost-savers’ who stuff the envelopes. As Andy said, it was his usual speech, but none the worse for that. Most people feel good about being praised, and I’m sure the collected stuffers were happy to be thanked, again, with a concert and some wine and water. You can do worse than to have someone be ‘eternally grateful.’

The Countess of Wessex wasn’t with us. She came a couple of days ago to listen in on the rehearsal. The Hallé now have their brand new rehearsal venue all ready to use.

We, the cost-savers, had come for Saturday afternoon’s Promenade concert Beside the Seaside, Beside the Sea! conducted by Stephen Bell and presented by Alasdair Malloy, with angelic singing by the Hallé Children’s Choir.

The audience was an unusually young one, so coughs were not as ‘stifled’ as the programme requested, but who cares? They are the future of the Hallé. We were treated to a selection of watery pieces of music, starting with Portsmouth Point by Sir William Walton, and then Khachaturian’s Adagio from Spartacus. He was so wrong, that Khachaturian. The piece simply oozes water. The Onedin Line people knew what they were doing when they chose it.

Then the choir sang about a trip to Blackpule (Blackpool, by Chris Hazell) and did a fantastic job of waving and being sick (pretend only). Debussy and Britten followed, before a selection of postcards from the wind and percussion sections. It is so nice to see more of the individual orchestra members! My Bolero hero (hey, that rhymed!) played An der Schönen Blauen Donau on glockenspiel.

The tuba player played from Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, although he didn’t actually dance while doing it. (I only mention this because I have seen it done. And I like it.) One of these days I’ll get my tubas sorted from my trombones, too. New York, New York had most of us clicking our fingers. The choir clicked especially well.

Elgar’s Enigma Variations brought the first part to an end, allowing the musicians to ‘come out and play’ with their children. It was a sort of family afternoon. Luckily baby Carrillo-Garcia didn’t regurgitate (sponsors) Vimto over daddy’s white jacket.

Double bass

Titanic (by James Horner) opened the second half, and then there were more postcards, with Jonathan Dove’s musical postcards where the choir sang traditional songs, weaving singing and music together. Not sure what happened to the drunken sailors. I missed them. (I don’t think I fell asleep.)

George Fenton’s music for The Blue Planet on television featured a great big whale, and you could literally ‘see’ the whale in the music. Just as the little plasticine men from The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! were quite visible, if you listened carefully to Theodore Shapiro’s piece from the film.

We clapped so well after all this that we got an extra, with much cheerful booming from the horns. Audience, and choir, participation required lots of arm waving. It doesn’t matter if babies cry. I think we all enjoyed ourselves, and I imagine that quite a few children will want to return.

It was good. And afternoon concerts mean you’re not too tired afterwards. Even with audience participation.

Music while you stuff

I went and stuffed some more envelopes this morning. I’ve not been for some time, so didn’t know about the ban on rubber bands. Now I do.

It was a good Hallé stuffing group, and plenty of variety as regards the topics we covered during conversation. They were on horse (meat) as I arrived, and we soon trashed a number of recent films. The jury was out on whether Les Mis is a must see or whether not to bother.

But it was other kinds of music I had in mind for here. Obviously most stuffers (probably all except me) are heavily into the kind of music played at the Bridgewater Hall. I’ve always felt a lightweight compared to people who can rattle off names of composers and conductors like they are their best friends.

Apart from the rubber band situation, it appears they have discussed whether to have music while we stuff. The thinking is along the lines that we are all music lovers and it’s stupid to sit in silence (horse meat discussions aside) when you could enjoy music.

People felt it ought to be something highbrow but perhaps less well known, so that we could find new things to like. But then when pressed, several people had more popular music suggestions to make, once they let go of the classical obligations. I didn’t dare say I’d bring Roger Whittaker if I could, but he’d be better than Take That, surely?

The more I thought about this, the less suitable I feel classical music is. You work better with something lighter and more upbeat. Maybe some experimenting is required to discover if the speed of envelopes being filled and sealed goes up with a particular type of music.

Now to see if they can unearth something on which to play this music! I gather that has been the temporary stumbling stone.

As long as the quirky discussions don’t go away completely, and as long as no one sings along. We have at least one Hallé choir member in our midst. He’d be all right.

(As I returned home and put the iPod to good use I came upon this, which I reckon would be eminently stuffable; Ich kann ohne country music nicht leben.)

Roger Whittaker in Berlin, 2003

Last Train to Tomorrow

World premieres don’t happen to me every day. And as Andy Ryans of the Hallé pointed out in his speech to the orchestra’s stuffers on Sunday afternoon, it was a first for our group. I’d been feeling despondent and worried he wouldn’t actually come and make his annual speech, but finally there he was, curtseying no less, and drinking two glasses of gin-free orange juice.

The Hallé did all right – but that doesn’t mean everything is absolutey fine and not worrying! – last year, and would have been stuffed without us. I think that’s what Andy meant.

This was a family concert, and the Bridgewater Hall was teeming with tiny future customers, but this was no Hallé light as far as the music was concerned. The theme was the Kindertransport, and conductor Carl Davis started off with Smetana’s Mẚ Vlast: Vltava, to signify where some of the Kinder came from.

At this point my companion, who shall remain anonymous, dozed off very slightly, but that’s why I have been equipped with elbows, and the situation was soon rectified. The livelier Brother Come and Dance with Me from Engelbert Humperdinck’s – the original one – Hänsel and Gretel, was beautifully sung by the Hallé Children’s Choir, wearing red shirts and really brightening up the choir seats.

The final piece of the first half was a lesson in orchestral instruments (which the stuffers had been deemed as not being in need of), courtesy of Benjamin Britten, assisted by six brand new actors from the MMU. Anyone who needed to know about woodwind or the banging of percussion players now do so. Hopefully this will have provided interesting facts for any newbies in the audience. (And on a personal note, I was very pleased to see Roberto Carillo-García in his original place where I could see him clearly.)

I have a dreadful confession to make. I was feeling pretty cynical about this world premiere thing. I felt that regardless of what Carl Davis’s specially commissioned piece for the Hallé Children’s Choir actually turned out to be like, a polite audience would applaud to order and we would be none the wiser.

Sorry about that.

Carl Davis admitted to being nervous. Maybe he was, but this showman always seems very sure of himself. Today he wore a bright blue coat, except for the second half when he changed into black, which was more suited to the occasion.

For Last Train to Tomorrow the children of the choir came onto the stage, to act as children on a train, and the actors, Amy Cameron, Jack Coen, Lowenna Melrose, Lucas Smith, Sinead Parker and Will Finlason joined them there. Their words as well as the songs were written by Hiawyn Oram.

The actors told the brief story of what the Kinder of the Kindertransport went through, from Kristallnacht until their arrival in England. The choir sang beautifully and with feeling, with the odd solo bringing the attention to individual children and what happened to them. There was nothing new in all this. We have all read the stories, and many of us know it from novels about this period in history.

But that didn’t detract from the effect Carl’s piece had on us. I’m afraid I have to say that after a while I didn’t hear his music, nor the doubtlessly expert playing by the orchestra. That’s because what the children sang and the actors acted out was so strong and touching that you simply had no room for musical excellence.

It is time to eat my words. Not only was this a fantastic new piece and a great performance, more than deserving of honest applause, but the audience had the good taste and sense to know that it required a standing ovation. This went on for some time, which was good, because there is much repair work that can be done with a sleeve in the dark. My cheeks were almost dry when the time came to leave.

I’d like to think that in years to come, I’ll enjoy being able to say I was present at the premiere.

Needless to say, after so much ovation, we didn’t make the five o’clock train home. But it’s good to remember that 10,000 children made it to their train to England. (Carl made a reference to what things are like today. I suspect he wanted to make a point about what has become of us.)

A Praguematic overture

I am a witch. This is quite important to keep in mind when reading the following.

Bridgewater Hall

We never used to go to Hallé concerts when Offspring were very young, but on realising friends took their girls to concerts I decided to try it with Son, when he was about ten. I picked a light type of subscription, for the Hallé Pops, and the Resident IT Consultant and I took it in turns to take Son. It went well and he really enjoyed the concerts.

In Son’s first term at Secondary school he received an invitation to a birthday party from a boy I’d never heard of until that moment. It was for Concert Night. Son surprised me by saying he wanted to go to the party instead… The Resident IT Consultant was needed to chauffeur him there, which left me, and a very young Daughter to go to the Bridgewater Hall. But it was worth a try, and she was so excited by the whole idea.

It was a Hallé raffle night, which I knew since it had been announced the previous time. I also knew I wasn’t buying a raffle ticket at a cost of £5. But as we arrived up at Circle level, there was a nice young man waving tickets at us and I hauled out my fiver while saying ‘but I don’t want to go to Prague.’ (That was the prize. Two plane tickets to Prague. And back.)

Throughout the concert I felt increasingly bad, and when the time for the draw came at the end, I just wanted to leave. I knew we were going to win. Carl Davis was conductor that night, and he was going to fish out the winning ticket. He put his hand in the hat (cake tin?), and I froze with fear.

‘Let’s have a drumroll first’ he said, pulling his hand out again. We had the drumroll. Hand back in. Winning ticket came out. Mr Davis took an age to read the number out (which I have long forgotten) and longer still to determine what to call the colour of the ticket. It was some kind of green. So was ours. Right number, too. Daughter whooped.

We were up in Circle, as I said. It took us forever to get down to the main foyer, where the rafflers waited anxiously by the door, hoping the winner would eventually turn up. I marched up to them and asked what sort of green they were wanting. It was our kind.

They were very happy to have their winner, and then they made us queue jump the autograph queue so that we could obtain Mr Davis’s scribble on our programme.

After which we went home, Daughter feeling more than satisfied with her Hallé debut. (She’s the winner in our family. It was all her fault for coming.)

But I did mean it. I didn’t want to go to Prague. Nothing wrong with Prague, I’m sure. I hoped the tickets were business class, which could be exchanged for four economy tickets, but it turned out they weren’t and couldn’t. So what with the cost of potentially buying two more tickets (don’t ask about ‘babysitting’), paying for hotel and meals (and not very veggie ones, I suspect), we came to the conclusion it couldn’t be done.

That’s why we never went to Prague.

And I still wonder how I could be so certain from the moment I said what I said to the raffle ticket seller.

Joan Baez – the 2012 Manchester concert

Joan Baez

I felt so guilty, dragging the Resident IT Consultant to another concert, even though we don’t go often and even though it was Joan Baez at the Bridgewater Hall. Decided it was good for us, however, and it was. What won’t be so good is this amateurish review of Joan’s concert. I have just been reading what one of my favourite music reviewers thinks of people who are not experts on writing about music. Although I refuse to be intimidated.

Well, I know what I like, as the saying goes…

Besides, I like Joan Baez, and whereas she might not sound the same as she did forty years ago, her voice has the ability to transport me back to about 1970, and that’s good enough for me. Her singing reminds me of what ‘it felt like’ back when it was cool to like Joan and when we still thought the world might one day – soon – become a better place.

Joan Baez

She went through guitars as though there was no tomorrow. Her assistant Grace trotted out with a new one (newly tuned, I assume) for almost every song. On this tour Joan has a two-man-band along, and that is quite sufficient. Many of the songs she did on her own anyway, and her style is such that too much ‘noisy’ accompaniment is neither necessary nor wanted.

Joan started out with some ballads, including her favourite type, with unhappy people who will soon be dead. But there is no avoiding the fact that Farewell, Angelina made the audience much happier. She reminisced about Woodstock, and about not giving birth in a caravan. Praise for Dylan, the best songwriter of the 1960s, and some confusion over Donovan’s contribution to one song.

Her stage drink this time was reported to be fruit tea, rather than the Irish coffee she’d once enjoyed, leaving her face with froth all over. It’s a relief to see someone like Joan on stage, feeling so secure in herself that she can wear cool and clunky shoes, so unlike the seductive dresses and impossible shoes other singers go for.

Joan Baez - the shoes

She must have been reading my mind, because as I was wondering if she only consorts with people on the right side of politics (the left side, obviously), she mentioned a conservative friend who loves Joe Hill, despite this beautiful song having been written about the ‘wrong person.’

I could be mistaken, but I felt Joan sung more songs that I didn’t know, or perhaps just ones I haven’t heard so much, including a love song written by her keyboard and strings and everything else musician, Dirk Powell. There were big hits as well, like Suzanne, Jerusalem, and an unusual arrangement of Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

Joan Baez

As usual, no interval, but after 90 minutes Joan came back on for three encores. First ‘Dixie’, sung with a bunch of fan’s flowers in her arms (very effective look), followed by Imagine. We had to ask for the third, but Joan said we were worth it, so got Blowin’ in the Wind. That’s when the audience stood up, and cameras flashed, making it the ‘rowdiest’ part of the concert.

Joan Baez

Came to my senses on the way out. No point in feeling guilty. Not just because  we are worth it. But I remembered that of all the singers I’ve forced on the Resident IT Consultant, Joan Baez is one he fell in love with. That could be why he seemed so happy.

It was a good concert.

Family prom

If I’d known that by having the wine and not drinking all of it, they could have poured it back into the bottles and returned it to the shop, thereby saving money, I would have. (This is obviously not true. The Hallé are suffering financially, but this was more by way of amusing idea to bring it home to us how frugal they are being.) But since I don’t drink wine, I didn’t. Hopefully they saved even more on that.

Because it’s all about saving money these days. That’s why we come and stuff envelopes for the Hallé, and it’s also why the only classical music concerts we go to tend to be our free reward ones. And I’m almost totally sure Andy Ryans was only joking when he said every pound saved goes towards his salary. Although, in a way that must be true.

The concert started with a Suite from Carmen, which was nice. You can’t beat The Toreadors, really. The only problem as I’ve mentioned before is that they have put double bass player Roberto Carrillo-García at the back.

Then for Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals they moved Roberto closer, which was great until that Mark Elder (Sir, I mean) came and stood in front of him. All I could see was the swirly top bit of his double bass peeking out of Sir Mark’s shoulder. He only shifted out of the way when it was Roberto’s solo in The Elephant. Which was lovely.

Mark Elder was there not to conduct, but to read the poems by Ogden Nash to go with the music. You’d think that on his day off he’d want to be off, but there he was. Right in front of Sr Carrillo-García. Admittedly, he was wearing holiday type clothes, although the Resident IT Consultant said he was being Saint-Saëns. Sir Mark. Not the Resident IT Consultant.

If I’d been Andrew Gourlay I’d have felt intimidated conducting in front of the ‘boss’, but he did well. (Though I still wonder quite how helpful all that waving is.) I’ve decided I quite like Carnival of the Animals. The audience was full of children, and I hope they liked it too. I often think that just because a piece has a more ‘childish’ title, doesn’t mean it appeals to children any more than other music.

It wasn’t just The Elephant which was enjoyable. The Cello solo was almost as good, and the weird piano pieces were funny. For someone who doesn’t do applause all that much, I clapped quite a bit, until I realised that with RSI that isn’t advisable.

The second half consisted of Ravel’s Mother Goose and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Suites, both of them, so presumably (she says hopefully) not the full works?

But speaking of full, the Bridgewater Hall was pleasingly full. Not totally, but nicely busy. And all those children will hopefully grow up and continue going to concerts. Hopefully the Bridgewater Hall will still be there for them.