Thursday, June 16, 2011

Music in the Brickhills concert

16 June 2011

"Voluntary arts group does some voluntary arts activity" doesn't seem like much of a story: makes you think of the old adage about "Man Bites Dog". A friend of mine claims genuinely to have seen the headline "local choir to put on concert" in a local newspaper in Bedford last year, but I'm not sure I believe him. The sad thing is that the somewhat understandable reluctance of the media to jump at the chance to report on voluntary arts groups doing what they do is a story of missed opportunities, because the real story is often much more fascinating and complex than we make it seem. Voluntary arts groups seem to fall into a trap of formality in their publicity, maybe mistakenly trying to seem 'professional', when what are most likely to attract media interest - and audiences - are the real human stories about what they are doing. Music in the Brickhills is a small organisation based in the Brickhill villages just to the South of Milton Keynes. Last Sunday Music in the Brickhills put on a concert of chamber music in the church in Little Brickhill: four things make this unremarkable fact fascinating. Firstly, until the development of Music in the Brickhills there were very few live music performances in these villages: local residents had to travel to Milton Keynes, Bedford or Northampton to see concerts. Secondly Music in the Brickhills deliberately programmes music which is not that often performed, bringing together local professional and amateur musicians who are attracted by the opportunity to play music they would rarely otherwise get the chance to perform and providing an opportunity for local audiences to experience it. Thirdly, rather than regular rehearsals Music in the Brickhills works on a project-by-project basis with a range of musicians and singers coming together for a few intense rehearsals before each concert - which makes it easier for busy in-demand individuals to commit to particular concerts. This has enabled Music in the Brickhills to attract some extremely impressive musicians to perform in these small villages: the musical standard of the performances is very high. Fourthly everyone gives their time and expertise free-of-charge and all money raised by the concerts goes to charity - each event supporting a particular local or national charity. This unique mixture is what makes Music in the Brickhills special and what attracted me last Sunday to hear the augmented Kaznowski Quartet play Schubert's String Quintet in C and an 'all star' wind ensemble perform Nielsen's Wind Quintet. The Schubert is seen by many as a high point in the history of chamber music. I'm not familiar with it but it is a long work encompassing great varieties of mood and a multitude of technical challenges. The Kaznowski Quartet gave a wonderful performance. I had not previously heard the Nielsen piece either: writing in the programme David Lack suggests that it is one of only a handful of masterpieces in the wind quintet repertoire. It is certainly a fiendishly difficult piece requiring virtuoso playing from all five musicians. Each instrument gets its (often completely unaccompanied) moment in the sun and at Sunday's concert these were all accomplished with confidence and panache. I loved the idea that, because Nielsen was writing for the Copenhagen Wind Quintet who he knew well, he introduced the characters of the individual players into the piece. (David Lack says in the programme "variation 5 does make you wonder about the relationship between the clarinettist and the bassoonist in the original ensemble!") It was a lovely concert - fascinating music, played to a very high standard with every penny raised going to the Parkinsons Disease Society: definitely a good news story.

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