Tag Archives: Carl Davis

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.)

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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.