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Monday, 28 February 2011

Classical - Hallé orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder

Star rating 8/10

This was my first experience of going to a classical concert – which is a hell of an admission having lived in a city with such a world famous orchestra as the Hallé for nearly 30 years. But better late than never.

The first thing that struck me was the average age of audience, which must have been well over 60, and is very worrying in terms of the future of live classical music after that generation has passed. The evening was also a bit formal – a fact not unrelated to the aforementioned age profile of the crowd I presume. There was positively no clapping between movements, just a hell of a lot of coughing, so it felt a bit too restrained for me. And obviously it was a black tie and evening dress affair for the performers. If someone could reinvent and reinvigorate the genre they would be onto something very big I suspect.

But nevertheless it was a very moving experience. The raw power of hearing the huge orchestra play live in such an acoustically perfect and magnificent setting as the Bridgewater Hall was stunning. The programme began with the Overture from the lesser known, by me at least, Verdi opera Luisa Miller. It was a brief but very energetic and exciting start, not least for the world famous conductor Sir Mark Elder, looking very chic in his all black ‘Milk Tray man’ style ensemble. Following this beautiful Verdi opener they moved onto a fabulous performance by the young German pianist Martin Helmchen of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major. Whenever I hear Mozart I am struck by the youthful fabulous brilliance of the man who gave us such a catalogue of perfection in his short life. And this piece was no exception to that. The piece demanded great dexterity of the pianist, and Helmchen certainly provided it. It is in places an intimate and gentle concerto, but then rising to a finale that reminded me of some of the beautiful music in his later work, ‘The Magic Flute’.

The Elgar Symphony No. 1 in A flat was obviously supposed to be the highlight of the concert, but in truth it was my least favourite bit. The slower movement was like a flowing river, but a bit too soporific. The percussion didn’t have much to do – I felt a bit sorry for them sitting there on their hands for more or less the entire second half – as they only came to life briefly in one of the movements. But I was still swept away by the majesty of the music – it felt very British – which was very apt for the night we were to triumph so emphatically at the Oscars.

It was overall an enlightening and uplifting experience that I will certainly repeat. The power of the music was moving and beautiful, and the skill of the Hallé undoubted. So , another reason to be proud to live in Manchester then – job done.

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