This past Monday night I spent at Bristol Old Vic, on the first night of the second year of Tom Morris' terrific project to bring classical music to the masses; The Bristol Proms. As Morris explains in his Guardian feature here, once upon a time classical music concerts were like the rock concerts of today, full of foot stomping, raucous crowds who vocally showed their pleasure or displeasure with the fare put in front of them.
At the beginning of each concert Morris showed up on stage to run through the rules of the Proms.
1) Pictures can be taken as long as they're put on social network.
2) The audience can applaud at any point.
3)No shushing from any other audience members.
These rules by and by were ignored by an audience who generally sat in respectful admiration of the virtuosity that played on the stage and in the studio space. People may not as yet be willing to break the self-imposed rules of the past few years. As the evening wore on and the alcohol flowed, the audience did relax and a more jovial, gig like atmosphere developed. It was at this point one began to feel how this has the potential to become a huge part of the British classical music eco-structure.
Each day from Monday to Saturday has a number of different events and concerts with tickets available for as little as £5 for each of them. Due to other commitments I missed the first event of the day, an interview with the great bass/baritone singer Bryn Terfel as Classical FM presenter John Suchet led him through his career interspersed with a number of songs of importance to him.
My first event of the night was the Errebus ensemble presenting Bach In The Dark, under the direction of Tom Williams. In the Studio space at the Old Vic, they played with the idea of using the space to create an immersive effect, as the voices blended into multi-part harmony and the boiling hot surroundings was transformed into an intimate aural soundscape of great beauty.
The highlight of the first day was Lisa Batiashvilli, the violin virtuoso who brought a programme of Bach and Piazolla to the Main House stage. Alongside her husband, oboist Francois Lelaux the whole programme was one of thrilling vivacity and total control. Piazolla's Spring In Bunos Aries, part of the Four Seasons quarter, was an absolute revelation for this classical music novice, a foot stomping, exciting climax to what had been a thrilling concert which had the audience raising the roof of the Old Vic.
The late night concert had the feel of a late night jazz club as Will Gregory-of Goldfrapp fame- brought his Mood Ensemble to play Bach on synth. If you have ever heard Jarvis Cocker's Sunday afternoon show on 6 Music, Gregory has that same easy going, laid back style and the musical experiments show that there is much more to classical music then large symphony orchestras. The younger audience lapped it up and it proved a fitting climax to the first day of proceedings.
There are a number of other highlights this week that deserve further exploration. My picks would include; Charles Hazlewood's All Star Collective and danceroom Spectroscopy at 9pm on Wednesday 30th July, Valentina Lisita's Music Party on Friday 1st August at 8:30pm and Dido and Aeneas which concludes the Proms on Saturday 2nd April.
Co-producers Universal Music have confirmed funding for a third Proms in 2015 but let's hope this fruitful and exciting venture can continue running for years to come.
Further details on the Bristol Proms can be found here http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/bristolproms2014.html