Written by Music

A Tale of Three Concerts

In the last seven days I seem to have seen a lot of music, although I did pay the price just a little.
Last Sunday I went to The Junction in Cambridge to watch Bellowhead. Just to be clear, I don’t live in Cambridge, so it was a bit of a trip to see them. But The Junction’s just near the station, and depending on when they finished, I knew I’d be able to get back to London in time.
Foolishly, as it turns out, I had a pizza while I was there. Or perhaps it was the salad. Anyway, it had implications.
If you’ve never seen Bellowhead, then you really need to. Yes, they’re a folk band, but there are eleven of them (so buy their albums: think how much they must have to split the proceeds!) and they play a very upbeat version of folk. Sometimes the songs they sing can be a bit bawdy. The previous night they’d played at the Royal Festival Hall, but it had been sold out being Valentines’ Day, and we were told that some of their songs that night had been quite rude.
This was more family friendly fare, which was just as well as people do bring their kids along to Bellowhead (again – the previous day in London, they’d done a free kids concert in the Festival Hall earlier in the day).
Jon Boden is the charismatic lead singer, but everyone else just seems to love appearing on-stage, and they bounce around with excitement and play their incredible array of instruments with complete joy.
According to their Wikipedia entry, the band themselves describe their music thus:
“Merging a joyous, uplifting cacophony of sound with a slightly sinister, distorted collision of music hall, Lotte Lenya, Robert Wyatt and pure theatre.”
Curiously, midway through the concert, a girl collapsed near me for the second time in a week. I know what you’re thinking. It’s not that. The previous Monday, at a speaker at a presentation had passed out and collapsed against the wall behind her. This time, it was a woman behind me who basically fell into me. I think it was a small fit, and she had her mum (I think) to hand to help her up. She stayed on for the rest of the fantastic gig.
As I say, there were ramifications of that pizza meal, and let’s just say that I had a very unpleasant trip home, and didn’t sleep a great that night or much the next day. And I wasn’t in a rush to eat anything.
The second concert was with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank. This concert was called Music and Chance, and was a very strange affair indeed. The highlight was a new composition receiving its premiere featuring precisely one minute of music from each of twelve composers. These people had randomly placed in two groups of six with each composing their minute with only the very end of the previous piece available to them. So effectively we had two six minute pieces.
The composers varied from the Pet Shop Boys (receiving their Brit the following evening) and Anne Dudley, to Will Gregory (of Goldfrapp) and Andy Sheppard. I think it’s fair to say that you could hear where the breaks between composers were.
Charles Hazelwood, who talked us through procedings, also gave us a couple of variations of Mozart’s Music Dice Game, with one version determined by audience members rolling dice (essentially the dice roll determines which of a 176 one-bar phrases, the orchestra plays).
Also on the programme was the remarkable “In C” for which Hazelwood left the podium and the orchestra played by itself. Although the duration is indeterminate due to the rules of the piece, I got the feeling that some kind of agreement had been reached in advance. It works astonishingly well however.
The whole concert was recorded for Radio 3, although I can’t yet tell exactly when it’s going out.
Finally, I was very lucky and got a last-minute ticket to see Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Philharmonia for Mozart’s Piano Concerto 17 (with Emmanuel Ax) and then Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. This second piece, in particular is immense and lasts some 70 minutes. But Dudamel is an incredible conducting force and throws himself into it. Of course he knows the piece backwards and has recorded it.
At the end of it, he got a rapturous standing ovation, and the applause lasted several minutes. He’s back in the country later in the year with his beloved Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, but sadly this is well and truly sold out already.
Anyway, glorious stuff, and a concert that will live long in my memory.