BBC NOW at St Davids Festival

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On Thursday the Orchestra will be on the road again, this time to perform at the St Davids Cathedral Festival in Pembrokeshire.

It's always lovely to go to St Davids - the city is gorgeous, and the journey to the venue takes you along some absolutely stunning stretches of the coastline. However, not being the best coach-traveller in the world, I've come to dread these long journeys a little.

St Davids Cathedral by Pete (Petes pix2008)

There's nothing worse than getting off a coach to do a rehearsal and a concert feeling nauseous and dizzy, feelings that don't seem to subside until you are ready to get back onto the coach. On the other hand, coach sickness will not stop me from enjoying a pre-concert ice cream, one of the things I look forward to the most at St Davids. It's the little things in life.

The first half of our programme will be Messiaen's L'Ascension. For the strings, this work has the novelty of being brass and wind only for the first movement. The movement is glacially slow, and not too bombastic.

It is a little difficult to not let your mind wander and to remember to start in the second movement! This must be how brass players feel all the time - counting bars and waiting for the strings to let them have their turn. Also, the last movement has reduced strings and I’m at the back of the section this week, and so, surplus to requirements. I must not fidget in my chair - I do hope the chairs are comfy!

I have not played a great deal of Messiaen's music. Everyone seems to know the Quartet for the End of Time, but I sometimes wonder if it is the story of the Quartet that people love rather than the actual music (it was composed and premiered in a prisoner of war camp during World War Two).

Jac van Steen

I wouldn’t normally reach for Messiaen from my record collection (even the utterly bonkers, but very fun Turangalȋla), but L'Ascension is, in my opinion, a much more immediately accessible work. The orchestral forces are small (bit of a shame there's no ondes Martenot though!), the harmonies are fairly traditional, and there is a feel to the music that is very intimate, and at times meditative.

The second half of the concert will be Mahler's Fourth Symphony, with Irish soprano, Ailish Tynan. In comparison to the Third and Fifth symphonies, the Fourth's relative brevity and much smaller orchestration (most notable in the exclusion of the lower brass), can perhaps make it feel like a much lighter work.

To be fair, anything that followed the soul searching, and the heights and depths of the third, might have been in danger of appearing slight in comparison. However, like the Messiaen, I find this to be a very intimate Mahler.

Ailish Tynan

The following night we will be back at the Swansea Grand Theatre, for a repeat performance of the Mahler. In the first half there will be Haydn, and a further opportunity to hear our soloist, Ailish, in Mozart's Ah, lo previdi.

If you are unable to join us in person at St Davids Cathedral on Thursday evening, the concert will be broadcast live on Radio 3 from 7pm.

For tickets and more information, contact the St Davids Cathedral Festival (01437 721204) or Swansea’s Grand Theatre on 01792 475715. You can also visit the Orchestra's website.

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