Review: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Corn Exchange in Cambridge on the 19th February 2020.

February 20, 2020

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Domingo Hinoyan and  Leon McCawley gave a splendid concert in the Corn Exchange in Cambridge on Wednesday 19th February 2020. This fine orchestra conducted by Domingo Hindoyan, knew how to inspire the audience. The performers expressed every nuance of their phrases with complete involvement and understanding.

The works performed included. Glinka’s Overture: ‘Life for the Tsar’, Beethoven’s piano concerto no1, featuring Leon McCawley as the piano soloist, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

In Glinka’s overture the orchestra brought out touches of unmistakeable Russian flavour both in folk-like light-heartedness and contrasting dramatic melancholy. .

Leon McCawley, in Beethoven’s first concerto, was superb. Most professional musicians know that even the simplest of phrases needs a great deal of care to play them well and he understood this principle well. His finger work was agile and precise and could be delicate, virtuosic or emotive as required. There was some particularly clear pedalling in his performance too. He is undoubtedly a magnificent piano soloist and intuitive musician.

After interval, Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony reminded us again of the richness and pathos of the Russian psyche. Beneath the charm and beauty of Tchaikovsky’s tuneful melodies the performers brought out a feeling of sadness and unresolved passion.  This large orchestra fully explored the different colours of the separate sections effortlessly and with panache. The performers were undoubtedly extremely talented and assured.

This was indeed a delightful concert. The next one in the Boldfield Computing series will be on Tuesday 10th March contact cornex.co.uk/orchestral.

Review of the European Union Chamber Orchestra in the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Friday 31st January 2020.

February 8, 2020

On this auspicious evening, the last night of the UK’s membership of the European Union, the European Union Chamber Orchestra gave a highly successful concert. The Cambridge Corn Exchange was filled with music of the best quality that kept the audience transfixed and, in the words of the conductor, Eva Stegeman, the music the performers played spoke more than words could suffice.

The evening included works by Marcello, Mozart, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky and Haydn. The orchestra worked as one, displaying a unique, intuitive cohesion such that even the slightest turn of phrase or intricate run, no matter how rapid, was perfectly synchronised.

The star of the evening was the saxophone soloist, Jess Gillam, who wowed the audience with her astounding performance. She lived and breathed every note of her performance moving her whole body in sympathy with the expressiveness of the music.

As soon as the first piece, Saxophone Concerto in D minor, by Marcello, began, we knew that the concert would be first-class. The tone was rich and the orchestra and soloists’ sounds were perfectly balanced. The phrasing was exquisitely precise never detracting from the emotional content of the pieces.

A charming, light-hearted ‘Cassation no.1 in G K.63’ by Mozart followed. This was gentle and sometimes cheerful with effects such as lightly plucked strings helping to make this a delightful interlude before Glazunov’s ‘Saxophone Concerto. In this concerto, Jess brought out the emotional depth of this later work particularly well, exploring the wide range of the instrument and making light of the rapid runs. She used her tremendous tonguing and breathing techniques to enhance  the deliciously rich tones of the alto saxophone.

Just before the interval she played a justly deserved encore that sounded very like a luscious arrangement of the song ‘Someone to Watch over Me’. The last long note was a testament to her phenomenal breath control.

After interval we enjoyed Tchaikovsky’s ‘Elegy for Strings’ and Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, ‘La Passione’. The orchestra came into its own with these pieces, the strings’ rich tone giving depth to the melancholic themes in the Tchaikovsky and the whole orchestra proving its phenomenal cohesion especially in the Haydn, even in the very rapid Presto at the end.

This was a wonderful evening.

The next concert in the Boldfield Orchestral Series will be on Friday 7th February at the Cambridge Corn Exchange featuring the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist Nicola Benedetti and ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ by Berlioz.

Box office 01223 357851 cornex.co.uk/orchestral

A review of the concert in the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Friday 7th February 2020

February 8, 2020

It was no wonder the Corn Exchange in Cambridge was packed for the concert given by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on Friday night  was fantastic. Featuring conductor Klaus Mäkelä and violin soloist Nicola  Benedetti, the programme for the evening presented two well-known, popular works: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major opus 35 and Symphonie Fantastique opus 14 by Berlioz. These works complemented each other very well.

The opening violin concerto required a phenomenal technique and Nicola demonstrated that she was a match for the most highly regarded virtuosic performers. She played with confident flamboyance, centring the notes exactly even in the most rapid passages. The orchestra responded particularly well in the more gentle moments. Highlights within this concerto were the Canzonetta, its instants of wistfulness and gentle nostalgia and the later rapid passages with their challenges to rhythmic cohesion.

The tunefulness of this work was contrasted by the heart-rending passion of the Berlioz. Unrequited love rarely leads to success but in this case, the gnawing angst suffered by the composer resulted in this amazing composition and its pain-drenched, fixed melodic idea (or idée fixe) that pervaded the work.  The magnitude of his feelings was matched by the huge orchestra and the colours he created swept us through a myriad of feelings. This orchestra captured the moods perfectly and had us sitting on the edge of our seats waiting in anticipation for the impending doom that we knew was coming. A whole range of moods and feelings were conjured by the composer. Even the tuneful strings were able to express smooth beauty one minute, demonic sneers the next. These fine musicians transported us easily from the gentle reveries of the opening,  with its occasional outbursts of passion, the exhilarating waltz in the dance hall, the charm of the countryside, and a sinister-military- flavoured- march that degenerated readily into a surreal and uneasy satanic Sabbath.

This was indeed a magnificent concert.

The next concert in the Boldfield Orchestral Series will be on Wednesday the 19th of February featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Domingo Hindoyan playing Glinka’s Overture: life for the Tsar and piano soloist, Leon McCawley, playing Beethoven piano concerto no 1. For more information contact cornex.co.uk/orchestral box office 01223357851

Why don’t we answer people’s questions properly?

January 5, 2020

These days there seem to be more and more cases when a simple matter of listening to people’s requests would save a whole lot of time, money, patience and angst. We find this in our government, our councils, our villages and our local firms and large organizations.

Time and again we are forced to phone companies that are supposed to be looking after our goods or money. I must have been on the phone for a total of at least 6 hours over the last few months trying to do what should have been simple tasks. At first, when I call, there is a long procedure in which the person I have called has to make sure I am who I am.  I note that the receiver of the call makes no effort to establish his or her right to the information I have to give. More often than not, the receiver of the call refuses to give their real name and will only give a made up first name.

Then we have the scripted response. No matter what question we ask the same answer is given. I had a call recently in which I said we wanted to make changes to an account. The reply was ‘You want to close the account’, I replied that we did NOT want to close the account but we wanted to make changes. This scenario was repeated again and again until I was cut off. This is not my idea of customer service.  It seems we have to guess what they should have said.

More often than not we get conflicting answers from the same firm or bank. I was told by a caller that I could take documents we needed to complete into our local branch and that they would check the forms and fax them to the head office. I discovered that, at first, this was not the case and when the teller was less than helpful the tone of my voice became a little harsher. I was then accused of shouting, so I replied that I was not shouting and that I should not be told off for expressing a legitimate complaint. What a way to carry on!

I was determined to solve a problem by writing a letter. I sent a letter to the Works and Pensions Department about pensions. In return, I received a phone call from the ‘Works’ part of the department and was told to phone the Pension people. Why on earth wasn’t my letter simply forwarded?

If I didn’t know better, I could believe that it is all a ploy to put distance between the customers and the organizations.  If they make the whole process frustrating enough, we will give up and let them do what they want, irrespective of our needs and requests. It would be interesting to know how much time (and money) is wasted on fruitless phone calls. I suggest that a lot of the money that seems to disappear in large firms goes this way. What a waste!

We should cease to put up with this poor method of communication. A phone call is surely less secure than a letter – words can easily be misheard. I have to remember that one of my passwords has been wrongly spelt because the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t spell!

I am now going to write a letter.

Review of ‘The Kingdom’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 30th November 2019

December 1, 2019

Cambridge University Symphony Orchestra, Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, Faust Chamber Orchestra and soloists: Eleanor Dennis (soprano), Jane Irwin (alto), Ed Lyon (tenor) and Gareth Brynmor John (bass) gave a fine concert on Saturday in Ely Cathedral. The work they performed was the relatively unknown ‘The Kingdom’ by Elgar. Conducted by David Hill these singers and instrumentalists certainly gave the work good measure. Elgar’s splendid composition, complete with many familiar motifs, managed to combine the best of his style in a mature and meaningful way so that we were transported easily from one scene to another, being told once again the story of Jesus and the impact he had on his disciples and the world.

Rarely have I heard such keen orchestration, the sounds selected representing perfectly the sentiments intended.  While the strings were the mainstay, as expected, spreading warmth, tenderness, excitement or pathos as the music required, the woodwind brass and percussion were all in evidence but only when there was a need for them. The timpani, usually a tool to underpin the underlying beat, in this work created a special dark atmosphere

These singers and instrumentalists were so good that we constantly transfixed. The text was brought alive with great depth of feeling. While the drama was not ‘overt’ it was definitely there and deeply powerful. Sounds of joy, reverence, awe, excitement, triumph or gentle peacefulness seamlessly permeated the words making them highly expressive and personal. This was only possible because of the intense musicality of the musicians involved.

This exceptional concert was dedicated to the late Sir Stephen Cleobury.

Autumn Concert in St. Andrew’s Hall Witchford, Monday 21st October 2019

October 27, 2019

Phil and Laurine and the Isle Singers gave an Autumn Concert in St Andrew’s Church Witchford on Monday 21st October 2019. The Isle Singers were accompanied by Peter Kirby.

A number of Autumnal songs were sung. Some of the items included ‘I’ve got my love to keep me warm’, ‘September in the rain’, ‘If I Loved You’, ‘The Ships of Arcady’, Raining in my Heart’, ‘Raindrops keep Falling on my Head’, ‘Misty’, ‘Singing in the Rain’, ‘Pennies from Heaven’ and the ’Irish Blessing’. Different versions of ‘Autumn Leaves’ were sung which showed the amazing difference that arrangements can make to the same song.

Specially prepared refreshments were provided by Sue Crowe and the winner of the £20 prize for October in the Friends of St Andrew’s Church Witchford 200 club draw was Della Allen. To join the 200 club and have a chance to recoup your money in a prize while contributing to a worthy cause, contact rjwestwell@hotmail.com.

The amount raised for the evening was £110 which will go towards St Andrew’s Church Extension Fund to provide a toilet and refreshment facilities in the church.

The next event for this cause will be the Christmas Fayre on Saturday 2nd November 2019 in St Andrew’s Hall Witchford 1000 – 1400. Entry is free and coffee and biscuits (£2) and a soup lunch (£5) will be available.

While the Isle Singers’ next concert will be their Carol Concert on Tuesday 10th December 4-6 p.m. in St Andrew’s Hall Witchford, the next joint concert for these musicians will be

a Valentine’s Concert in the hall on February 14th 2020.

Review of the concert of Elgar in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 26th October 2019

October 27, 2019

If you were told that the concert you were about to attend had a programme of only one composer, you would be worried that after the first few pieces you would expect to be craving for something different. However, in the concert on Saturday the programme of works by Elgar and no other composer contained such varieties of style, expression and sound that the audience was easily held transfixed throughout the performance.

Works included ‘The Wand of Youth Suite No. 1’, ‘Coronation March’, ’Pomp and Circumstances Marches nos.3 and 5 and Symphony No.1.  The Cambridge Student Symphony Orchestra directed by Simon Armitage really brought the composer’s works alive. At times you could feel a gentle, warm sun on your face in the quintessentially, verdant English countryside.  There were moments when one felt convinced that the composer himself was there, especially when the orchestra revelled confidently in Elgar’s powerful expansive sound. Moods varied significantly from cheerfulness and jauntiness to grandeur or a sense of foreboding as in the first symphony which heralded the Second World War.

Symphony no.1 was indeed the peak of this wonderful concert. In this work particularly, the members of the orchestra demonstrated how they and Elgar could move easily from mood extremes: from sadness, to sinister undercurrents or sheer unadulterated joy. They showed too the capacity to explore the most beautiful and powerful aspects of orchestration in all sections: strings, woodwind, brass and percussion.

This was indeed a splendid event.

It was pleasing to see the famous composer and musician Dr Arthur Wills with his son Colin In the audience. Simon Armitage and Graham Austin and were able to reminisce in the interval for Simon featured in the Ely Arts Festival in the 1980s when Graham was the chair.

Review of Ely Choral Society’s concert on Saturday 19th October 2019 in Ely Cathedral

October 20, 2019

Ely Choral Society, under the directorship of Andrew Parnell, produced wonderful sounds on Saturday night in Ely Cathedral There were great moments of beautiful sonority and cohesion. Word pictures were particularly impressive and contrasts were clearly and meaningfully exploited.

The soloists were Rebecca Duckworth (soprano) and Jonathan Midgley (baritone) and the organist was Glen Dempsey. They were highly commendable with the organist managing the instrument magnificently making it far more expressive than I thought possible.  Rebecca’s delightful tone, clarity and expertise enhanced the concert wonderfully. The baritone, Jonathan Midgley, brought his solos alive with his attention to expression.

The balanced programme included works by Haydn, Fauré, and Mozart. The opening ‘Insanæ et vanæ  curæ’ by Haydn captured the audience’s attention immediately with its powerful and dramatic impact. This was contrasted by the lovely performance of the peaceful and calm ‘Pavane’ by Fauré. Then Jonathan Midgley gave performed ‘Fantasia in F minor’ by Mozart, playing the most rapid of notes with absolute clarity as assurance.  A fine performance of Haydn’s ‘Missa Brevis  S. Joannis de Deo’ (Hob XX11) by Ely Choral Society and the organist lead us to the interval.

The highlight of the evening for me was Fauré’s Requiem that formed the second half of the programme. These first-rate performers captured every sumptuous effect in Fauré’s score making the music exquisite, emotive, dark, mysterious or dramatic as the score dictated.

The was indeed a wonderful concert. The next event by Ely Choral Society will be their Family Carols on Saturday 14th December at St Mary’s Church at 7 p.m.

A verbal promise is not worth the paper it is written on

September 29, 2019

When a child says ‘I promise to be good,’ you and I know that the child really means it and intends to do it. However, we also know that the child, like us, is human and is bound to break this promise, no matter how good his or her intentions have been.

In the world of politics we all understand and often seem to accept that politicians will make all sorts of promises before an election – promises that they fully intend to honour, but once elected, when they try to fulfil their promises, democracy and the will of a lot of other people often thwart them.  This should always be kept in mind when our government and our councils set up bodies to make decisions about the people’s welfare. If a situation is created where there could be obvious bias, the situation should be changed so that even if the members of the groups concerned promise to be unbiased, they will be seen to be so. The situation should be changed so that automatic prejudice is removed.  Promising to be completely fair and open-minded is not enough. As individuals we all have our own preferences and beliefs and suggesting that we would be able to ignore these in our decision-making is unrealistic.

It is often believed that a ‘scientific study’ is unbiased – it is set up so that all efforts have been made to avoid an individual’s bias. However, while human scientists are engaged in such studies, individual prejudices are easily incorporated in the decisions made. At some stage when a scientific interpretation of data is required, the interpretation is bound to be made according to the individual scientist’s way of thinking.  If a study of eating habits in 100 people appears to demonstrate that eating, for example, parsnips, puts on weight, using numbers is not enough. It depends on what the people are like, what their normal metabolic rates are, and what their backgrounds and preferences are.  We all know some people who can eat anything and not put weight on and others who only have to eat a little and the pounds pile on. Similarly, some patients are advised to have red wine for their heart, other are advised they should avoid alcohol. No individual is the same and counting the results in a lot of people is no better that counting pebbles on the seashore maintaining that they are all the same.

We need fewer hollow promises and more indications of preferred ways forward. We need fewer brash statements of what individuals will do because they believe themselves to be all powerful. We need, instead, more statements of aims and persuasive language that encourages support. Only thus will the people affected feel that they have had a say in what happens. Only thus can our democracy be preserved.

Blog: You never appreciate something until you lose it.

September 22, 2019

It is often said that you never appreciate something until you lose it. I became very much aware of this when I became ill some time ago. Suddenly I had no will to do anything and even though the household continued to be busy around me, friends came to stay and went, I was hardly aware of it all. Later, when I was better, I realized that I had indeed missed out on a great deal.

This is often said about people too, of course. One never truly appreciates one’s partner until they are no longer with us. However, there are always moments when you do appreciate them, and some appreciation is better than none. We are merely fallible human beings who are bound to be remiss.

Then, of course, climate change is making us aware of how we should appreciate our world more for many people are now being put at risk. Suddenly they have become unexpectedly homeless, their beautiful, well-loved homes have been utterly destroyed by a hurricane or their houses have been made uninhabitable by a flood.

There were a couple of local people who suddenly had to leave their home. In the early hours of the morning they realized that their house was on fire and they had to leave immediately. They moved into rented accommodation. I was waiting for their reaction – surely this would upset them a great deal? It didn’t. They stoically accepted their lot and appreciated the lives that they had. Evidence of this stoicism has been apparent with many of the people whose homes have been destroyed recently. There was nothing they could do about it at the time, so why complain?

However, what we can do is to make it known occasionally to those who are with us, or working for us behind the scenes, that even if we do not say so very often, we appreciate what they are doing.  We as a society can also do something about climate change.  We as individuals can help spread the word about what needs to be done.

We should reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The most effective way of doing this is for governments to make the right decisions:  discourage large forest fires, provide an efficient electric public transport system that makes the use of cars redundant, demand that developers provide cycle paths and pedestrian access to all buildings as a first priority over and above the provision for cars- the list is endless.

We are hearing a lot more cries for us to do something about global warming, but why are government bodies so slow to take up the cudgel? They need to realize if they concentrate on making our lives better, they may even find they may get more votes.