Tag Archives: Hallé

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.

The American Dream

Isn’t it lucky that Sir Mark Elder went to New York? If he hadn’t, we might not have had Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town to enjoy, here at the Lowry in another wonderful town.

I could see his left ear, but for the most part I forgot all about Sir Mark, except when I noticed a pair of arms flapping somewhere in front of me, and wondered about it before remembering this was actually a musical with the whole of the Hallé hiding down in the orchestra pit. (Although Daughter sneaked a look down and said it couldn’t be all of them and she didn’t see Roberto Carrillo-García anywhere.) I love it when the serious players play lighter stuff. They do it so well.

That’s why it was easy to forget they were there. Perfection is unobtrusive. And this was perfection. Speedy Valenti had a nerve instructing Sir Mark and his band from up there on the stage…

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

What happened on stage was also perfect, but because it happened right in front of me I didn’t miss it. And who would want to miss this? Simon Higlett’s set and costume design must count as one of the most pleasing I have ever seen. Possibly the best ever. New York never looked more New Yorkish, including a natty little elevated train.

And those clothes! The clothes were to die for, and that goes for everyone from leading lady Connie Fisher’s to every last one of the dancers’. It was an interesting – and oh so American – blend of 1930s to 1950s style. The kind we privately aspire to and usually fail to achieve. It was a clever move to have the dancers help Connie and her stage sister Lucy van Gasse dress on stage.

Those dancers are every bit as marvellous as director Braham Murray said they were. Choreographer Andrew Wright even had his dancers conga-ing down the aisles at the Lowry, and as for the Riverdance sequence in jail, well…

Jailors and sailors all fell for Lucy’s beautiful Eileen. Every single male (and I don’t necessarily mean ‘single’) in New York followed Eileen around and having witnessed Michael Xavier try to walk into the ladies toilet at the launch, I know only too well what hit her admirers.

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

Michael as Bob Baker was a singing Dan Stevens-lookalike. Somewhat dim when it came to what he really, really thought of Connie’s Ruth, but eventually the penny dropped. There isn’t a tremendous amount of plot here. Two sisters arrive in New York, looking for jobs and maybe fame and fortune. They meet people. At least, Eileen meets people. Men. They make friends. Ruth gets her Bob – and a press card – and Eileen gets a job with Valenti.

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

The finale with the sisters wearing the most gorgeous glittery dresses and happy endings for both major and minor characters is perfect.

We need a CD. Possibly even a DVD. (Are you listening at the Lowry, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Hallé?)

Wonderful Mancunians who haven’t yet booked need to do so urgently. People in other wonderful towns must see to their ticket needs for the wonderful tour of Wonderful Town. Who knows when we get to see anything like it again?

I want to go again tomorrow, and maybe next week, too. And if all else fails, I will really need that CD.

It’s starting today

Wonderful Town, that is. You know, the musical at the Lowry, starring Connie Fisher, who seems very nice, despite saying that Maureen Lipman has large feet. Here is a short video clip where Connie will persuade you that you need to come and see Wonderful Town. It doesn’t have to be at the Lowry, but if it is, you get the full Hallé orchestra (first two weeks) as well.

Connie Fisher and Wonderful Town

Book now, or it could be too late!

A Wonderful Launch

I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried. There was a certain magic in finding myself in the Ladies at the Lowry yesterday, having Connie Fisher and Lucy van Gasse singing over the washbasins. Wonderful Town co-star Michael Xavier very nearly followed me and Lucy in there, in which case I could easily have been serenaded by three top singers. Let’s just say I took longer over my business than I usually would have.

Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier and Lucy van Gasse

As it turned out I needn’t have concerned myself over missing the first launch last February, because Connie had been told to keep quiet for a month (she said that was very hard for her), so didn’t sing. So, there we were, for the second launch of Wonderful Town, the joint venture from the Lowry, the Hallé orchestra with Sir Mark Elder and the Royal Exchange Theatre. This event is now happily much closer, opening on 31st March.

Connie Fisher

The Leonard Bernstein musical was a lucky find of Mark Elder’s, who suggested it to the other participants after seeing it in New York. That was five years ago, and they have worked towards this moment ever since. Simply a minor thing like booking the Hallé involves waiting two years. For director Braham Murray it was ‘hell on earth’ since putting up a musical is like giving birth. He had to whittle 400 wonderful dancers down to 60 in three days. And by some miracle the main attractions all said yes when asked.

Michael Xavier

That would be Connie Fisher, Lucy van Gasse and Michael Xavier, who were in Salford to sing to the collected press and prospective major ticket buyers. With the help of pianist James Burton they sang four songs from Wonderful Town, starting with Ohio, and then A Little Bit of Love, 100 Ways (to lose a man) and It’s Love. Apparently it all ends happily, and the beautiful girl does not get her man. The other one does.

Lucy van Gasse

As well as these fantastic singers, for the first two weeks the lucky audience at the Lowry will get the full Hallé in the orchestra pit. All 65 of them, and Mark Elder conducting. For the 11 week tour round the country – and the third, recently added, week at the Lowry – there will be an orchestra of 17 with James Burton. (I had been worrying considerably about how the Hallé could possibly take several months to tour, and now I know they can’t. So, for the full works, the Lowry it will have to be.)

After more information on producing Wonderful Town, there was a Q&A session with the three stars. The press was a disgrace, not coming up with any questions at all, whereas the normal audience did just fine. There might be a CD. (Let’s hope there is.) The rehearsals take six weeks, in three different rooms; one for the dancing, one for the acting and one for the singing. For Thursday’s performance the singers had a total of one day to learn songs and lines.

Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier and Lucy van Gasse

As a reward for their wonderful questions the audience were served afternoon tea, although I gather they were to be held to ransom until they booked tickets from the mobile box office at the back. The press went along to another room for interviews and afternoon tea. The Lowry put on a great spread for us, and once I’d sorted my Earl Grey with coffee (easy mistake to make…) to be Earl Grey without coffee, all was fine. The coffee cake was wonderful, and I chatted up a former almost-neighbour, who was the lucky man getting Connie’s attention in 100 Ways.

The handsome Michael Xavier might be from Knutsford, and he might be your typical romantic lead, but the two ladies were by far the most beautifully dressed. In fact, I did wonder if they talked colour coordination before getting ready that morning? I suppose it’s the sort of thing I should have asked while we were all in the Ladies…