A whole day dedicated to three out of the four orchestral families ( brass, wind and percussion) today at the RNCM, and despite the sunshine and slightly premature St. George's Day revelry, there was a considerable turnout.
The day started at 10:30am - yes, I'll write that again... 10:30AM on a Sunday! But I was there and had the pleasure of listening to the first couple of concerts, given on a specially constructed stage area in the cafe, practically alone. Only a few of the 'hard-core' joining me.
The title of the day's festival, 'A Dance With The Devil' was a good one, and one which musically, we are in no short supply. Our obsession with the macabre, especially our relationship with the Devil and Hell is age old and timeless, and there is a whole plethora of music from every era to accompany this mind-set. Most of the works showcased today fit very nicely into this umbrella title.
The format of the whole event - which continued all day until finally wrapping up about 9:30pm (yes that's 11 hours of non-stop music!) was to have larger, more substantial concerts interspersed with what were called 'pop-up' concerts of around 10 minutes' duration happening in the public spaces between the main auditoria. One simply could not watch or listen to all the events, there were around 25 concerts happening throughout the day, but I did manage to listen to as much as I possibly could.
Of the 'pop-up' concerts, I was fortunate enough to catch ten of these. My over-riding concern here being that once the cafe area was filling up at both lunch and tea times, it was almost impossible to be able to enjoy the music on offer there due to the hustle and bustle of busy-ness all around. The cafe is situated in the main thoroughfare of the building, and everyone entering or leaving the performance spaces needs to pass by here. Ideal for cafe business, but little else. Those concerts given on the so-called 'Lower Concourse' were far more successful in this regard.
Main concerts included RNCM groups, The Bassoon Ensemble, Brass Band, etc, and the day's special guests from overseas, The Boston Brass.
There truly was something for everyone throughout the course of the day; and with so many different concerts on offer at different times it was very difficult to decide what to see and when to eat! However, If you will allow me, then here are a few of the day's personal highlights.
In The Carole Nash Recital Room, the Junior RNCM - a group of talented youngsters, too young as yet to be fully-fledged students here, have weekly Saturday sessions with college tutors to supplement their studies in the hope of auditioning for and training with the RNCM once of school leaving age - played some lovely wind quintets and saxophone quartets, showcasing their abilities and proving themselves eminently worthy of the title musician.
If ultra-modern music is your thing, then you could not have been better served than watching a concert entitled, Mysteries Of The Macabre. Ligeti's piece of the same name was performed in an arrangement for piano, percussion and trumpet. David Lang's piece for narrator, electric tuba and wind band, Are You Experienced? came next. This was followed by a world premiere of a student composed piece for solo electric tuba; Tubass Badboi by William Hearne. Playing the tuba for both of these was guest musician James Gourlay. Finally the showpiece of this particular concert, Michael Dougherty's Dead Elvis. A very theatrical and hugely ironic piece in which we hear 'Love Me Tender' played as a white coffin is revealed and the musicians and conductor enter the space. The conductor starts looking for the oboist and eventually finds him, the reincarnation of Elvis Presley dressed as in his heyday, rising from the coffin! With mock irony, the oboe is played a la Elvis throughout and the music is composed with as many different styles and genres as possible. Trying to name them and keep up was almost impossible. A true visual and aural highlight!
Another absolute favourite of the event was a concert given by members of 5 different youth bands from across the region. Playing the fabulous 'Ghosts' by Stephen McNeff for pre-recorded voice and orchestra we witnessed 105 junior musicians from Derbyshire City and County Youth Wind Band, Bolton School Senior Concert Band, Oldham Council Music Service Youth Wind Band, Stockport Youth Wind Orchestra and the RNCM Wind Orchestra joining together to create an immense and wonderful sound. The music was very 'visual', inasmuch as you really could imagine the happenings described by the speaker and I loved the fact that one of the movements was dedicated to the ghost of Oldham Coliseum Theatre!
Another highlight surely had to be the playing of Stravinsky's score to A Soldier's Tale with a showing of the original Blechman's stylish of-the-epoch cartoon film of the same name. The film lasts about 50 minutes through, but it is really only watching this animation along with the playing of the score does one truly understand the music fully. One belongs to the other like a hand to a glove.
Finally, a mention most definitely needs to be made of a a small group of extremely talented musicians from the other side of the pond. Joining this festival and playing in several of the concerts today was a small but immensely talented group called Boston Brass. That's Boston, Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire. [although only one member actually hailed from there; but all five represented the American continent, both north and south]. Playing a concert geared for young learners and playing with the RNCM Brass Band they were a sheer delight. I especially admired the stunning trombone playing of Domingo Pagliuca.
If I had to describe the whole festival in five words then I would say, vital, surprising, edgy, inclusive and expressive. After my lengthy stint of non-stop music I was totally drained but completely sated. Incredible!
Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 22/4/18