Star rating – 8/10
Before this year’s Manchester International Festival, I vowed to go to more events this time, and to sample some that were not my on my usual cultural agenda. And this classical solo concert by Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova was one such personal experiment. Part of the reason I chose it was that its setting, the beautiful Chetham’s School of Music and Library, which was founded in 1653, was one of the hidden gems of the city that I had never been inside.
This was a fabulous afternoon of music so beautiful and haunting, played by the young virtuoso; a building that did not fail to disappoint, with all its history and charm; and an interesting film backdrop to some of the programme by the Quay Brothers. Being so close to someone of such brilliance, who can make unbelievable sounds come out of her instrument is quite an experience. The first piece by Berio, performed whilst the small audience stood in a reception room, was not particularly to my taste, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
But when we moved into a seated slightly larger room, with its beautiful paintings and fascinating architectural detail, we were treated to a hauntingly beautiful piece by Bach, his Ciaccona from Partia No. 2 in D minor. I am no expert in classical music, but this was mesmerising in its range, and emotion. And Ibragimova is beguiling to watch as she totally engages with the violin and the music, oblivious to the audience so close to where she is playing.
After this we got to explore the library and other parts of Chetham’s, whilst Ibragimova played a simple and spiritual piece from Biber, which wafted through the building through grates and crevices. The tour was fascinating, containing as it did the alcove where Karl Mark used to study in, and converse with his friend Engels as they no doubt discussed the condition of the working classes of Manchester. There is also a desk with the alleged hoof print of the devil, said to be branded there by Doctor John Dee, of Damon Albarn’s MIF operatic fame, during his time at Chetham’s.Then it was back to the seats for a final sonata by Bartok, again a bit heavy for me really, but performed alongside a film by The Quay Brothers about death that felt like an early silent black and white picture.
This was a really invigorating and life affirming afternoon, and well worth stepping out of my comfort zone to experience something so different and uplifting.