In ‘The Old Days’, before Covid, the Music Department used the building for lessons up until 2pm each weekday and my shift rarely started until they’d finished. Now I am here at the box office desk at 9am , eyes like boiled sweets and speaking to you through the befuzzlement of the sleep deprived. You might have expected my body clock to have adapted by now, what with having both my professional and social nightlife so tragically curtailed but, no, I just cannot get to sleep before midnight at the earliest, which is round about when I used to finish work.
Don’t feel sorry for me though, it is good to hear live music again. David Owen Norris is taking a class in the auditorium this morning and we’ve had a violinist, a pianist, a guitarist and now a singer – I’m being thoroughly spoilt. Last week, I got to watch the whole of the Piatti Quartet concert, which was a rare treat indeed. I mean, it’s not that I don’t miss you all like crazy but, contrary to popular belief (my friends all seeming to think that I spend my entire time at work watching bands), I’d normally have my head in the ice cream freezer at the point where, last Tuesday, I was being swept away by a Beethoven quartet. Even though it was just myself and Concert Hall Manager, Kevin, in the audience, it felt very special and we both made delighted half faces at each other (the other halves being swathed in maskery) at the end.
And The Piatti were a nice bunch. String Quartets, by and large, tend to keep themselves to themselves: they seem to survive on little food and the odd cup of herbal tea and all one generally has to do is show them to the dressing rooms and tell them when to start. All I had to do on this occasion was show them straight into the auditorium , sit them inside a cluster of stage lights and microphones, fetch them a few bottles of water and that was my role over with, pretty much, as Tim was in charge from there.
Tim? You know Tim. He’s the guy at the back, behind the sound desk. During Lockdown, he expanded his skills into film and, if you haven’t already seen how accomplished he’s become, take a look at the films that he’s made for Turner Sims’ Jazz South Radar project, the first one of which was shown on November 19th. It was a double bill of pieces by composers Robert Mitchell, which was filmed here at the venue, and Josephine Davies, which was filmed at Bexhill-On-Sea (I could hear strains of the quartet rehearsal slipping through my headphones while l listened to the latter, which was interesting, but probably difficult to replicate…I wouldn’t bother trying that at home). If you’re not up to date on Jazz South – this is an amazing programme, developed and led by Turner Sims which supports the development of jazz throughout the south of England, then check it out on their website.
The weather (and the lockdown) may be wearisome things but Daniel (my Front of House colleague) showed his defiance by whacking the Christmas tree up in the foyer half way through November. This is something he generally wants to do as soon as Halloween is over and we normally try and reign him in for a month but, this year, we all agreed that a bit of Christmas cheer could only be a good thing and it gives us something to look at other than a foyer which has been devoid of anything other than hand sanitiser for what feels like an awful long time now. Know how much you are missed.
If your thoughts are drifting towards Christmas gifts, you might already be thinking about supporting musicians by buying their merchandise. I came across a page on Facebook where top folk musicians are recommending their picks for Christmas presents so, if your loved ones like folk music then head here.
If it’s other genres you’re looking for, there are several new albums by some of our forthcoming artists such as Mammal Hands’ Captured Spirits, Lau’s Folk Songs (released December 11th), Daylight Savin’ by The Dime Notes, La Serenissima’s Extra Time, Chiaroscuro Quartet’s Haydn String Quartets Op76 nos 1-3 and Paul Lewis’s recording of Beethoven’s Fur Elise, and Bagatelles Opp 33, 119 and 126.
I’ve been listening to Captured Spirits through the headphones this morning and it’s sounding pretty good to me. Have a listen and see what you think:
While it’s easy to get settled into Amazon and buy everything in one place, if you want to support the artists, buying from their own website or from Bandcamp will guarantee that more of your money goes to them rather than to the distributor. Bandcamp have been having ‘Bandcamp Fridays’ during lockdown where they aren’t charging the artist commission at all, so it’s worth checking that out before you make a purchase.
There’s also T shirts and other merch to consider. A lot of folk bands have started printing tea towels and tote bags for reasons that totally escape me (how did that start??) but it might be the very thing you’re looking for, who knows? Flook, who we are looking forward to welcoming to the venue next year, have whipped up an attractive mug for Christmas, and mentioning them gives me license to steer you towards this beautiful video of Flow, In the year of Wu Wei, which is a collaboration between Brian Finnegan, flautist from the band, filmmaker Alan Doherty and Belfast artist EMIC, brought out in June this year. Be sure and watch the whole thing as all the arty stuff happens halfway through.
Another album I stumbled across the other day while looking up Tunde Jegede (who, if you read my last blog, you will remember is working with us on our Mayflower 400 project) is Croydon Composers Vol.3, released on November 20th. On further investigation, it turns out that Croydon Composers is a project started in 2009 by award winning composer / producer / musician Shri Sriram, which brings together aspiring composers from the community with their more established counterparts across the UK. Tunde has been partnered with two young writer/musicians, Bellatrix and Sara Hirole on a track called Dare you and the result is a hauntingly beautiful tune which is definitely my ear worm, nay silk worm, of the week. Find the whole album here.
If you’re looking for live streamed gigs to ‘go to’, you’re in for a treat this weekend. Saturday 5th of December brings about the reunion of the mighty folk band, Bellowhead, the fiddle player from which, Sam Sweeney, visited us for our last Season Preview back in February and whose band is now rescheduled to play in May 2021 (booking details to be announced in the new year). Bellowhead split up in 2016 but reconnected online during lockdown to make a video of their hit New York Girls At Home, just for the fun of it. They had so much fun that they decided to do a one off gig and this is it. Tickets are available here and here is the lockdown video…
Look out for the little girl who makes a guest appearance in the trumpeter’s video.
Then on Sunday 6th you have the first concert from Tim Garland’s Oak Gable Studio “Winter Encounters” sessions, featuring pianist Kit Downes and vocalist Norma Winstone who, apparently, raced round as soon as Lockdown Two was announced to record this intimate concert with Tim before it started! Have a look at the trailer here and, if that convinces you that you need to ‘be there’, buy your ticket from Tim’s website here.
There are some other whole concerts that you can watch for free too: one is Kayhan Kahlor playing a Jazz Fest Sarajevo concert recorded on November 1, 2020 at Bimhuis, Amsterdam.
Then there is the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra with guest pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who some of you will have seen when he played at Turner Sims. From FOH’s point of view, he was one of the most relaxed and friendly pianists we’ve met and we’re looking forward to seeing him again in a future season. This concert, filmed on November 19th, features pieces by Messiaen, Schrekers and Rota.
While foraging about on Facebook, I came across a festival called Midsummer Music, which is an annual chamber music festival directed by Paul Lewis and his wife, cellist, Bjørg Lewis, held in St Mary’s Church in Old Amersham, in the heart of The Chilterns. The Lewises founded it in 2009, their wish being to start a festival near to where they have lived for many years with no ‘star’ recitals but rather a coming together of talented artists to share a stage in an equal and less formal setting. Paul says that it’s rather like having a group of friends to dinner for the weekend. Of course, it was cancelled this year just like most other music festivals but, to soften the blow a little, they have posted a recent concert Paul did with The Oslo Philharmonic, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, available until Tuesday 15 December.
To find out more about the festival (next year’s is scheduled from the 8-10 June 2021) go to their website
Well, I think that’s all I’m going to give you for this week. I’ll be back again before Christmas to throw some festive treats your way. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to Joanna MacGregor’s concerts on the 13th – I absolutely never get to watch piano recitals because they’re so often sold out, so I’m hoping to be able to creep in and watch the whole thing. I might even treat myself to an ice cream.
Stay safe and keep your masks clean,
I’m off to get a coffee…