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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford



To judge by the standard of youth orchestras, from which barely a handful have any interest in entering 'the profession', and the extraordinary standard demonstrated in competitions for young soloists organised not only by innumerable regional and national festivals, but also by radio and television, the fine amateur musician is still very much with us. It is not now unusual to hear (as I have) amateur orchestras giving extremely competent performances of Mahler, Prokofiev and Martinu symphonies, Stravinsky's Rite and Bartók's Mandarin, a whole range of challenging 20th century music from Bernstein to Boulez -- repertoire which the professional orchestras would be reluctant to programme. But here are the amateurs, filling the town halls and conference centres, and radiating such joy in the achievement that audiences leave not only fully entertained, but also with their horizons broadened in a most friendly and accessible way.

A young oboist from the orchestra plays Jean Francaix L'Horloge de Flore, and turns out to be a surveyor with the local town planning office; a soprano sings Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs at the end of a week as deputy head of a large school; the pianist in Honegger's Concertino is my dentist. Amateur music-making can be the real pleasure in music, and as the weary professionals become increasingly desperate about their next round of grant applications, their private and business sponsors, and the box office, the amateurs sail through the music with ecstatic smiles on their faces and return to their own working lives refreshed.

When so many concert and recital seasons reveal their forthcoming programmes to consist of the same well worn pieces, the same tired touring orchestras playing the same programme in a dozen cities, another young string quartet with more Haydn, Mendelssohn and Brahms, it is hardly surprising that capable amateurs want to explore alternative musical delights.

Composers, who are generally amateurs themselves, should leave the professionals behind and continue a respect that existed more vigorously before the 19th century for this highly receptive and competent territory. And it is surely a mistake to think that only with professional training can a performer hope to move our souls. Anyone who has listened to Hungarian fiddlers at a village fair, or a Finnish male-voice choir in a darkened wine bar at midnight, or a lone singer in a Somerset kitchen, can feel as close to paradise as with any professional.


Copyright © 22 November 2001 Patric Standford, West Yorkshire, UK



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