Misbehaving at concerts?
'I saw almost nothing but empty pages; at the most, on one page or another a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all the solo part from memory since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to set it all down on paper.' - Ignaz von Seyfried, page turner for the composer at the first performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 3.
It was on my very first visit to the Far East that I began to notice the profound differences between classical performance there and in my native England, where we would simply never see hundreds of audience members queuing for a thirty-minute lunchtime recital featuring just one obscure organ work. It shouldn't have been a shock - the arts mirror human life, and we should expect that reflection to include cultural differences. Here in the decadent West we all notice the profoundly high standard of oriental musical talent flowing in our direction - motivated, focused and ready to perform.
Years later I came across the quirky manga and TV drama Nodame Cantabile which followed the lives and fortunes of two zany young music students and seemed more like animated fantasy than real life, but the real and the imagined can sometimes intertwine in unexpected ways. An example is how the late James DePriest, who conducted music for the Nodame series, found himself sucked into the drama itself, appearing as a character in later episodes.
So I wasn't at all surprised to hear recently about a young French conductor, fresh from the Paris Conservatoire, whose reputation stems at least partly from working on a theatre experience called You Me Bum Bum Train. It's November 2011 and conductor Thibault Back de Surany and violinist Patrick Rafter are both first year students at the Royal Academy of Music in London. They decide to start Ensemble 111 - an orchestra which actually encourages audience members to misbehave and enjoy themselves, clapping between movements of symphonies, for example - and, encouraged by RAM deputy principal Timothy Jones, begin giving concerts at the Academy, featuring classical, Romantic and contemporary music, including the first performance of Almost Spring by American composer Carter Calisson.
Soon it is almost Spring (2012), and the scene is a café near the Royal Academy of Music. Thibault and his oboist girlfriend, an exchange student from Mannheim, are talking to the relaxed and talented Taiwanese concert pianist Chia-Ying Jaqueline Tu, a post-graduate student at the Academy who also draws doodles about her life as a pianist. The three are quickly becoming friends, and Jaqueline offers her services as piano soloist for Thibault's planned Beethoven concert, at which they'll perform a concerto outside the Academy for the first time.
Another year slips by - again it's almost Spring. Jaqueline, now a contributor to the internet magazine Music & Vision and writing a column there called Life Around the Piano, has been practicing and rehearsing Beethoven's Concerto No 3 in C minor - Thibault's Beethoven concert is about to happen.
See and hear the next bit of the story for yourself: just turn up this weekend at 7.30pm on Saturday 2 March 2013 to St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road, South Kensington, London SW7 4RL, UK, and hear the concerto, followed by Beethoven's Symphony No 2. Entrance is free, and yes - you can clap between movements if you really want to.
Posted: 27 February 2013
by Keith Bramich
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