The climax of six weeks of scraping and blasting came yesterday, with a grand concert in Cambridge Corn Exchange to celebrate the success of the Grade-One-A-Thon raising money for the Spinal Injuries Association. A large and motley orchestra of well over a hundred players filled the stage, and played to a huge audience. Everyone, it turned out, had passed their grade 1 exams, most with distinctions. More importantly, vast amounts of money had been raised for this fantastic cause – in the end, a grand total of £60,000.
There’s a short feature about it all on BBC Look East – the music being played throughout the clip is my piece. You can also hear about it on Radio 5 live (Christian O’Connell) if you fast-forward to 47 mins in.
It was a lot of fun. Chris Lawrence did some excellent stand-up, and Russell Keable took the orchestra through its paces, which included new pieces by Simon Brown and me, both of which sounded surprisingly acceptable! Guy Llewellyn and Maurice Hodges gave an excellent rendition of Mozart’s Rondo (from the 4th horn concerto), taking turns at horn and piano. There were many strange squeaks and thumps, and much laughter. All credit to those who worked very hard to make this happen so wonderfully.
I’ve been asked to research and present another programme for Radio 3’s CD Review – the part called Building a Library, where the reviewer considers all the available recordings of a piece, guides you through them and makes a recommendation. Last year I looked at Messiaen’s La Nativité, and this time it’s a truly extraordinary work by Gabriel Fauré, written in his 80th year, his (only) String Quartet.
Fauré’s music takes us on a long and fascinating journey from the delicious and apparently effortless poise of his earlier music to something almost completely opposite – dark, tortuous and beset equally by doubts and by the determination to go on which sometimes seems to me to foreshadow Samuel Beckett. These qualities emerge in Fauré’s music before and during the First World War, and then in his very last works (including the String Quartet, the last of all, from 1923-4) this sense of striving acquires a kind of luminosity which is absolutely unforgettable.
Like other late Fauré, it works its magic slowly, and doesn’t give everything away at once. Preparing this programme, and listening to the piece repeatedly in various different performances was an ideal way to get this music under my skin. It says a lot for the piece that having now heard it umpteen times I’ve not become in the least tired of it, and in fact it’s now one of my Desert Island discs!
The programme goes out on Saturday 28 March at 9.30am on Radio 3. It can be heard for one week following on Listen Again on the Radio 3 website, and can also be downloaded as a podcast – for further information see CD Review/Building a Library.
With this year being the 100th anniversary of Messiaen’s birth, there’s lot of Messiaen in the air, and one of the most interesting things I’ve been asked to do recently is present Radio 3’s CD Review ‘Building a Library’ feature on the first and (in my opinion) the greatest of Messiaen’s organ cycles, La Nativité de notre Seigneur. The programme will be broadcast on Saturday 31st May, and can also be heard on the Radio 3 website for the following week, using ‘Listen Again’.