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It was that time at the end of the summer when the days begin to shorten, and during the interval we queued at a tent in the churchyard for our drinks, then stood in small groups for a few minutes of animated conversation, performers, audience, visiting composers, their publishers, journalists and festival organisers all together, as the last of the daylight faded from the sky ... one of those special Presteigne moments.

Interval drinks over, the audience begins to return to St Andrews Church. Photo: Keith Bramich
Interval drinks over, the audience begins to return to St Andrews Church. Photo: Keith Bramich

Then to end the first concert, the Copland, with the orchestra at full strength for the complete ballet music from the Library of Congress, tender flute solos from Kathryn Thomas and the skilful piano playing of Catherine Milledge. The music, of course, so well-known that it's obvious to everyone which sections don't normally get an airing in the more usual concert version. I felt that this more familiar version makes better musical sense, and that the extra music, whilst fascinating, detracts from the unity of the piece. In particular, the arrival and handling of the 'Simple Gifts' Shaker tune seems more clumsy in the original. Dangerous, though, to judge ballet music on the strength of concert performances without the choreography, and I guess that, in particular, the dark fast section immediately following 'Simple Gifts' in the complete version, probably complemented some on-stage action.

It's a source of amazement, by the way, at the start of each Presteigne Festival, how quickly its youthful chamber orchestra gels by the start of the first concert -- the orchestra's members arrive, generally, the day before the festival begins. The 2003 Festival's diverse coverage of contemporary orchestral music showed us just how flexible this performing group can be. The orchestra was led this year by Dominic Jewel, who you might have spotted on BBC Television playing first desk in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales during the 'Last night of the Proms'.

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Copyright © 5 October 2003 Keith Bramich, London UK


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