What a Contrast. 18th February 2009
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Maida Vale Studios
My Location: front row
In contrast to the last folk gig I went to, where Phil Beer treated the crowd to a remarkable solo performance, on Wednesday, I attended a concert by about 60 times as many musicians in what was also a remarkable performance! Prior to this, I had never heard a live symphony. The thing that struck me when the orchestra had gathered themselves together, the first violinist had called order with an E note, and Michal Dworzynski conducted the ensemble into blowing, plucking, bashing, and bowing their respective instruments, was the multitude of sounds hitting me from all directions, all perfectly, as one would expect, in time!
It was an amazing spectacle to watch as well as hear. I would love to give the drums a go in an orchestra. As the hardest working member of all the bands I’ve played for!! the idea of sitting at the back of the gathering before me, listening to them graft away, and pretending to follow the music for 15 minutes, before rising dramatically and crashing the cymbals together in crescendo, then sitting down again for another round, appeals to me somewhat!
As well as the drums, eight double-bass players provided the rhythm. The one closest to the audience had a unique instrument. All of the others had regular volute shaped scrolls, but his was that of a carved skull or human head. I couldn’t tell precisely from my location, but it did stand out from the crowd. The musician was a stern looking fellow, fully in charge and confident in his position.
The hierarchy within the group made me have a quiet chuckle. I suppose to get the best out of that many people, there has to be some method of discipline. Music sheets were shared one between two. At a convenient time, one of the musicians had to get up, turn the page, sit down and resume playing within a beat. I expect it was the junior partner in the pair to whom this task fell; needless to say, carved scroll fellow didn’t do the turning!
As I left the studio when all was over, and made my way to the station, I was passed by a couple of cyclists dressed in the standard Symphony black outfits, with violin cases on their backs, pulling into a local pub; it must be a hard life being a professional musician. I didn’t join them, but stopped at the William IV on the Harrow Road and had a good larger, and a bad beer, which I exchanged for a good beer. Top tip- if you can, make sure you are there on Friday 13th March, Mick Jones (there’s only one) is playing a charity gig there with his band the Rotting Hill Gang. I’m away on the second leg of my Thames walk that weekend so can’t attend.
The show was a spectacle that I thoroughly enjoyed, and expect a repeat performance some time in the near future. I really enjoyed the Symphony Orchestra music but don’t worry- it won’t replace the folk or the rock. Next stop is only 2 days away, at the Seaford Folk Club to see Trotwood.
Cheers for now, Mark.