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?

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.

Hello Hallé

And hello Beth. Just testing, as Daughter said in her email to the kitchen this morning. People want to see if things work. In my case I’m seeing if the (Google?) alert is alive and well for Beth. Hallé, Hallé, Hallé, but not Halle Berry, although apparently that works just as well. Or not. A bit like when I mentioned Colin Firth without really meaning to.

Sorry, waffling too much.

I stuffed envelopes again this morning and rather a lot of them too, even if I my dodgy knee left to go home before they were all done. Towards the end, as we lost a couple of the other stuffers to fluffy things like book clubs, an almost total silence ruled and we stuffed and we stuffed. I was down to a mere ten minutes per fifty letters, which improves my average of 200 an hour.

One letter was for a family concert at the end of March:

Hallé Family programme

Another was for a more grown-up concert in three weeks’ time. Currently the Hallé orchestra are in Hong Kong. The instrument packing instructions were displayed on the walls as I walked along, still almost getting lost after several years. Too hot and your violin melts and too cold and your cello will not be too happy either. Except the cello and his pal the double base at least stand a better chance of sitting with their humans on the plane.

I rarely stuff letters addressed to friends, but today was different. One letter for husband of Borås Girl, which had me pondering why men so often are the ones listed on lists. At Witch Towers it’s the witch who’s on most of the mailing lists.

As I deserted the last of the stuffers I had a few minutes spare, just in case dodgy knee wished to walk even more slowly to the train. It walked fairly well, so I had a minute in which to pop into Cornerhouse for a programme for their Spanish language film festival ¡Viva!, which begins tomorrow.

So much culture! So little time!

John Barrowman at the Bridgewater Hall

We got innuendos by the shovelful, and then some. The man never stops talking and barely stopped singing, so you certainly get your money’s worth from John Barrowman. It’s a rare thing to have a three hour concert, and John recognised that some of his fans had buses to catch as he began the end of the show, with several songs to go.

John talked so much he lost his train of thought at one time. Speaking of trains we were lucky enough to have a late one to catch, meaning we didn’t have to leave prematurely. We also had the joy of a points failure on our way in, and it’s no thanks to Northern that we made it in time. Just.

While on the transport theme, Daughter remarked on the number of ‘buses’ parked outside the Artists’ Entrance as we ran past, and wondered why they were all there. I instructed her in the needs of great stars to travel in lots of buses.

That need became more apparent during the concert, when we could see quite how many people John travels with. An ‘orchestra’ of eight and four dancers to begin with. Probably lots more unseen stars backstage, only one of whom was required to come out and be humiliated for our entertainment. Last night he had to yodel, but John boasted that he changes what he asks for every night. So, a dream to work for.

Ostrich feathers. They take up space. An extra singer; in this case Jodie Prenger who was described by John as a female version of himself. Not strictly true, because I’d say Jodie sings better, but John is confident enough to carry that off. (Note to JB – Daughter said she’ll look out for Jodie’s album when it comes.)

Mum and Dad Barrowman. That must be why we all love this boy. How many singers cart the parents round the country while touring? And of those who do, how many put them on stage? There they were, in each other’s arms, dancing in their Sunday best. Or maybe it really was James Bond’s suit? Meeting the parents explains a lot about the boy. Did he have to coach Dad to add to the innuendos, or did that come naturally?

What John needs is a better scriptwriter. Possibly he needs a scriptwriter. Half of what he prattled on about between songs would have been ample. And if it hadn’t been quite so much along the lines of ‘amusing if you were there at the time’ it would have been better still. With Jodie John laughed so much that it was like witnessing dear friends in paroxysms over a not terribly funny anecdote, wishing they’d stop, and putting up with it because you like them.

OK, so innuendos are fine, if a little predictable, but being a bore isn’t.

But other than that, it was a good concert. Not being a great fan, there were rather a lot of songs I didn’t know, and as we all know, I like things better when I do know them. Good airing of The Doctor and I, with well chosen film clips from Doctor Who. And you can’t go wrong ending with I Am What I Am, especially when wearing a really sparkly suit.

After which we all hobbled home, since – as I found at John’s first concert – a Barrowman audience tends to be, well, mature. This maturity didn’t prevent them from dancing in the aisles or whooping continuously, however.


Could I remember his name? No, I couldn’t. Hanging in the foyer of the Bridgewater Hall on Saturday night, waiting for the Resident IT Consultant to park cheaply, I noticed the Hallé’s marketing no. 1 greeting people. By the time we were in the circle bar with our complimentary envelope stuffing drinks, him making his annual speech, I recalled he’s Andy Ryans. He was grateful for our efforts, as usual, and very worried, which is less usual.

Andy apologised for swivelling round as though he had some horrible rotational disease, but that’s speaking to a spread-out group of people for you. And yes, we’ll call him if and when we have caught a politician to discuss money and funding with. There was going to be a bonus piece of music in the concert, which Andy said he had heard during rehearsals earlier.

There was a lovely dog – although not at the drinks gathering – with his own bowl and mat. You don’t often see dogs coming to hear Beethoven.

The conductor, Rory Macdonald, has just joined the ranks of doctors and policemen by making me feel ancient. He began by thanking the sponsors of the concert, who have sponsored generously for 21 years, which will be approximately the same number of years that Rory has been around. Then he kicked off with Fingal’s Cave, which was nice and Scottish for both the Resident IT Consultant and for Rory himself, one presumes.

I’m rather less happy with the new arrangement of the Hallé themselves. I’m used to having Roberto Carillo-García closer to me than that high court judge type position the double basses now occupy. It does very little for the ogling of my favourite double bass player.

Although I did see more of Erika Öhman on percussion this way. I used to meet her mother sometimes, years ago. (Hejsan Erika!) She did some good work on those copper saucepan-lookalikes in Beethoven’s fifth. Nice symphony.

Had time for some musing during the concert. I’m not the best classical concert goer in he world. But I do like going. And I hope that no funding crises will stop me from being able to go once in a while. Hallé is a good orchestra, but above all, they are ‘my’ orchestra. Hence my annoyance when people don’t sit where they ought to.

I had also promised the Resident IT Consultant Bruckner, but he turned out to be Bruch. Understandable confusion for someone who struggles with Liverpool and Birmingham. Bruch’s violin concerto no. 1 was very ably played by Sophia Jaffé, who wore a really lovely dress, too. I thought they would never stop clapping after her violin playing.

Since they didn’t give her any flowers after the Bruch, it made sense that Sophia should return to play the bonus piece, Beethoven’s romance no. 2. Andy had said it was ‘one of the most beautiful pieces’ he ever heard. The man was right. It wasn’t bad at all.