Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

26 April 2016

Last Saturday was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death and the Royal Shakespeare Company marked the occasion with a star-studded gala performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, hosted by David Tennant and broadcast live on BBC2. I was thrilled to receive an invitation from the RSC but quickly remembered that I was already committed to playing in the Northampton Symphony Orchestra's own Shakespeare celebration – 'The Bard's Birthday Bash' – the same evening. Our Shakespeare-themed concert opened with music from Prokofiev's ballet 'Romeo and Juliet' followed by 'The Magic Island' – a piece by Northampton-born composer William Alwyn which was inspired by 'The Tempest'. Alwyn's score quotes Caliban's speech 'Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises' – the words spoken by Kenneth Branagh at the start of Danny Boyle's London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony and which I used in ‘Island Race’ – the short choral piece I wrote with Robin Osterley and Evan Dawson to celebrate London 2012 (see: http://culturaloutlook.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/island-race.html). But the main event in Saturday's NSO concert was a performance of William Walton's music from the 1944 Laurence Olivier film of 'Henry V', arranged by Christopher Palmer as 'Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario' – in which the music is interspersed with key speeches from the play. For our performance actor Graham Padden and NSO Conductor John Gibbons had added even more of Shakespeare's text to turn the piece into a one-man performance of the play, accompanied by 80-piece orchestra. It was great fun to play and Graham Padden did an amazing job of conjuring up Shakespeare's scenes and characters. The shunning of Falstaff by the King was a really poignant moment, Henry's wooing of the French Princess was playful and touching and the Battle of Agincourt was powerful and brutal: 'Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'. There were many great woodwind solos, a mysteriously wandering off-stage trumpet and an army of percussionists. With a series of short movements carefully co-ordinated with narrative cues it felt more like playing for a show than an orchestral concert but it was a really enjoying and satisfying experience. I'm glad I decided to celebrate the Shakespeare anniversary with the NSO: when you've got Graham Padden, who needs David Tennant?

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