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MUSICAL LANDSCAPES – view from the keyboard, Pt 2

Wed Mar 22 2017

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"One thing that is always surprising to me is how beautifully the softest sounds carry." @houghhough talks preparat… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…


Part 2 of Steven Devine’s blog from our Musical Landscapes education tour, starting in Durham.

Friday 3 March 2017

Early breakfast and back to Durham Johnston school for the first concert.  This featured students from Durham Johnston and nearby St Leonards alongside the OAE.  One of the highlights of the concerts on this day was a film that the OAE visual guru, Zen Grisdale, had put together of landmarks in the area – High Force waterfall to Durham city centre and much in between.  I’m having to rely on what people told me about this as I was sat under the screen playing every time it was shown so I never actually saw it!  The soundtrack, played live by students and us, was written by the GCSE students from the two schools and scored for OAE and them by James.  A really interesting collaboration and great music to play.

This event over and we packed up everything and took it 10 minutes down the road to St Leonard’s school itself, set up in their sports hall, sound checked and did it all again…

Both of these events involved everyone present joining in the music and James spent the first 20 minutes of each teaching the listeners the songs, rounds and body percussion that was an integral part of the concert.  The audience for these concerts was made up of the pupils of the relevant schools who joined in with gusto (after a certain amount of warming up and cajoling from James).

Packed up again and with Huw Daniel, the OAE leader for this project, we drove the 50 minutes down to Barnard Castle and the imposing Bowes Museum for an evening recital we were giving with Luise Buchberger (cello).

All set up for the recital in the Jubilee Room at Bowes Museum.

This concert (featuring music by Abel, Scarlatti, Biber, Vivaldi and Platti – the latter new to me) was within the theme of Musical Landscapes and I can’t imagine a more perfect room to perform this repertoire!

Harpsichord by Kirckman, c.1780 from the Bowes Museum Collection

As many people know to their cost, I’m quite interested in historical keyboard instruments, having worked in a museum specialising in them for most of my professional life. So it was especially fascinating to see that the Bowes Museum had a rather fine selection of six or seven keyboard instruments.  I really wanted to get closer to them so asked if I could meet the Curator – it was closing time – you can imagine how popular I was. Anyway, she very kindly came to say hello and we discovered we’d met 14 years previously at another museum…

Really grim weather for the drive by to the hotel in Durham.  Very happy to arrive back and get to bed!

Saturday 4 March 2017

Arrived back at Durham Johnston mid-morning to get the harpsichord in and help set up the orchestra.  Bit more responsibility for me today as I was conducting the combined forces of the Durham Youth Orchestra and the OAE in the opening “Chaos” movement from Haydn’s Creation.  I’d been up to meet DYO three weeks previously and had a great time – I was really looking forward to meeting again and introducing the OAE to them.

You can imagine the two orchestras side-by side: they were about 60 strong, we were about 20.  They were at a=440 and we were at a=415…  Some of the OAE players brought 440 instruments in addition, but some hard-core individuals actually transposed (effectively playing the piece in C sharp minor!).

The set-up begins…

This concert, the same programme as the previous day, differed in energy in that the audience was adult.  However, James still warmed them up and taught them his Round, his Song and the Body percussion…  The audience joined in, very enthusiastically led from the front by the Mayor.

And then, in an instant, the group dispersed to various corners of the UK and only the ear-worm of James song I am a Child of my Time remained to help remind us of the past very full two days.

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