We were privileged to hear two very accomplished artistes playing challenging repertoire tonight in the excellent acoustic of St John’s, Keswick. I didn’t realise until I heard the first notes that I already know the most recently written and most topical piece in their programme, Post scriptum by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, written in 1990. I worked with this music several times in connection with the war in former-Yugoslavia, in particular with video footage I was editing of the atrocities at Srebrenica. I most recently heard the piece on Thursday last week on French radio, who played it on the first day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
The centrepiece of the concert was Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3 which was first performed just after the composer’s death in 1976. Hearing a live chamber music performance again after so long was as emotional as it was therapeutic; this programme was chillingly appropriate in view of the pandemic we are enduring. Cellist Felix Hughes (no relation) introduced the quartet as written by Britten after unsuccessful surgery and when he must have been aware of his own mortality. It is a more contemporary exploration of the themes of illness and death than the well-known Mahler Symphony No. 9, that composer’s last completed symphony.
An object that looks as mundane as a reel of recording tape can be the carrier for many rich and varied emotions
I decided not to listen live to this evening’s rather faux Last Night of the Proms 2020; rather, I chose to take the opportunity to take care transcribing a 2400 foot reel of quarter-inch Ampex 351 Double Play tape on my shelf which I had labelled No 49, “1975 Last Night of the Proms”.
Cormac Rigby introduced the 81st Last Night for BBC Radio 3 whilst “my colleague Richard Baker, the bravest man in the western hemisphere at the moment”, talked with the Promenaders and introduced the programme for BBC1 television. It was a warm evening and I know from my own experience as a promenader that the arena gets even hotter when the lights are on for television. Colour television in 1975 required far far more light than current television cameras so it must have been really hot and sweaty indeed. The ladies of the BBC Singers were, for the first time, dressed in colours, not black. Cormac Rigby describes the two Promenaders who laid a wreath around the bust of Henry Wood as dressed topped in white pith helmets and that they saluted Sir Henry’s bust afterwards in a sharply military fashion.
My photo today of Wembley Arena (née Empire Pool) where I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band play in 1981; its once-proud and innovative construction is now submerged amongst the redevelopment of the Wembley Stadium area
Arias and drinks on the lawn of the Walled Garden in aid of Chiswick House and Gardens.
My photograph shows the two singers, Milly Forrest and Lauren Joyanne Morris, as shining colour in the darkness and that’s how this evening felt: at last bringing the colour of live singing back to us still in the gloom of Covid.
There was great musical energy from the artistes and a pretty good setting. Even with the public health restrictions, it was so much better than anything online or recorded or broadcast where you don't get the shared experience of going to the concert venue or the communal response to the music: online is just not so human. But there’s still a long way to go. Meanwhile, we can hope the proceeds help to give encouragement to these local young artistes who have trained at London’s Royal College of Music, as well as some finance to the venue, Chiswick House.
Milly Forrest and Lauren Joyanne Morris’s programme was varied including opera arias and songs by Handel, Dvorak, Bizet and Humperdinck. Tom Lehrer’s satirical Poisoning Pigeons in the Park finally got an audience reaction beyond polite applause. Spacing the audience out, as currently required, does inhibit audience bonding and the audience’s rapport with the performers.