Archives for August 2010

Vox Pops at the Proms ...

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Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 15:14 UK time, Thursday, 19 August 2010

For the second year running, Proms-goers have had the chance to record their thoughts on the concerts following visits from teams of reporters from Winkball, the video networking site.

If you'd like to find out what 72 members of the audience for the 'Stephen Sondheim at 80' Prom thought, just visit

And 49 music lovers also performed little pieces to camera before the BBC Symphony Orchestra's Prom on 12 August, conducted by Lionel Bringuier. Clearly, a popular draw was Nelson Freire performing Chopin's Piano Concerto No.2. You can see the comments here:


Life after Cybermen with the National Orchestra of Wales

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 15:10 UK time, Monday, 9 August 2010

From Daleks to Diamonds, viola player Laura Sinnerton spills the beans on what the National Orchestra of Wales have been up to since the Dr Who Prom in early August.




It's been a busy few months. Doctor Who Proms (Cybermen and Daleks in the - very exciting), regular Proms, a fantastic tour of Mid & North Wales for pupils from special schools and recording the amazing Nitin Sawhney's scores for the upcoming BBC series The Human Planet (can't wait to see it - looks fab).  Annual leave has been lingering like a mirage on the horizon, but now it's almost here!  Just a small matter of a few concerts in Amsterdam with our principal conductor, Thierry Fischer first...



Early on Tuesday evening we arrive at AmsterdamSchipolAirport.  The journey notable for its lack of eventfulness. After a quick freshen up in our hotel we head off to find a nice place to eat and relax. Amsterdam Tip No 1: if you like steak, you have to go to Cau on Damstraat! It's really lovely to get a chance to have a leisurely meal with colleagues, especially in such an eclectic group that crosses the string/brass divide. Eating together usually involves a certain degree of clock watching - there's nothing worse than being half way through a chicken biryani and realising you've only fifteen minutes to get on stage!




NOW_rehearsal2.jpgWEDNESDAY 4 AUGUST


We also have Wednesday morning free (spoilt rotten we felt!), so us girlies head to the Anne Frankhuis. What a humbling, thought provoking experience.  By the time we're leaving the Heavens open.  Now, don't judge us, but we end up sheltering from the torrential downpour in the Coster Diamond House.  Considered asking Byron, our Orchestral Manager, what the chances were for an advance.  Gwen (1st violin) had to be dragged kicking and screaming from a beautiful emerald surrounded by little diamonds. We eventually arrive at the Concertgebouw looking like drowned rats - oh the glamour!


I know everyone says it, but I have to say it again - the Concertgebouw is stunningly beautiful and it has such a warm, golden sound.  What a privilege to play here!  Rehearsal goes smoothly enough, although it takes a little while to get seated comfortably as it's quite cosy on the stage in the strings. My desk partner Jim (viola, obviously!) and I are up on a riser - note to self, do not mess up any bowings!


After a quick bite to eat (well, I say quick - I ordered a cheese panini and forty-five minutes later got a cheese ciabatta), it's back to the Concertgebouw to prepare for the concert. 


For me, there's always something very special about the moments before a performance that I love.  Putting on your concert dress, putting on your make up, warming up ... everyone has their own personal little way of preparing for the concert to come.  I really need my little bit of 'me' time before the concert as the last few hectic months in work have definitely caught up with me. You know when you're so tired you're not too sure if you can physically drag your own body to wherever you are supposed to be?



It's fantastic to have such a full audience (nothing worse than playing to a lot of empty seats, though that seems to be the case in a lot of cities now) and the concert has a lovely atmosphere.  Our Welsh soloists in the first half, Llyr Williams for Beethoven Piano Concerto No 3 and harpist Catrin Finch (great dress as usual) in Danses Sacree et Profane by Debussy, have a very warm reception. I feel the Debussy in particular has some really beautiful colours.  Quick interval and it's game on for Saint-Saëns No 3!  Huw Williams (organ) gives the Concertgebouw organ a good airing and in what feels like a very short period of time, concert number 1 is drawing to a close.  We get a standing ovation and Thierry has to make the long walk down the Concertgebouw stairs several times. Rather him than me, especially in the heels I had rather inadvisably decided to wear.




Thursday morning dawns wet and grey, but by the time we've sorted ourselves out it's shaping up into a rather beautiful day.  Thanks to a tip off from Vickie Ringguth (2nd violin) we've pre-booked tickets for the Van GoghMuseum. Which brings me to Amsterdam Tip No 2: Prebook tickets and feel exceptionally smug as you waltz to the front of the queue!  We enjoy a nice light lunch and head for the Concertgebouw.


Thursday's rehearsal is tinged with a little sadness as the evening concert is the last time Rob Goodhew (bass trombone) will play with the orchestra.  The rehearsal moves along fairly quickly, mostly balance checking for Bolero, topping and tailing the Brahms (Symphony No 4) and a quick tidy up of the seriously funky Flute Concerto by Ibert, with amazing soloist Emmanuel Pahud.


Concert time arrives and it's great seeing the hall so well filled.  We kick off with Ravel, with our percussionist Mark Walker taking the lead on the snare drum.  I don't always enjoy Bolero, but the Concertgebouw acoustic is so generous it really sounds fantastic - I get quite carried away with some of my pizzicato!  After that comes the Ibert Flute Concerto. I've secretly been dreading this because I've always found Ibert really tricky and in the rehearsals I had found it very difficult to feel settled in the work.  Somehow tonight I survive unscathed!  Mr Pahud plays fantastically (as always) and the audience reaction is a testimony to how wonderful a musician he is.  I really love his encore too, the Ballade by Frank Martin.  I'm quite partial to a bit of Frank Martin really. 


bass_box_phonepic.jpgInterval time and the talk backstage mostly circles around the topic of 'one more hour and we are on annual leave' as well as myself, Claire (bass), Gwen (1st Violin) and Arlene (Sub-Principal Trombone) taking photographs of ourselves emerging from Claire's bass box.  Very mature, I know, but also exceedingly funny!



Brahms' Fourth Symphony has my favourite Brahms' first movement and the strings are sounding really lush.  The rest of the work seems to pass really quickly and with the closing chords, that's it!  Once again, there's a wonderful audience reaction (Dutch audiences are so appreciative!) and we're done.  Concert clothes back into wardrobe boxes and instruments in instrument boxes ready for our amazing, tireless stage and transport managers, Andy Smith and Mark Terrell, to load onto the van and drive back to Cardiff.






This has been such a civilised tour, even our departure time is at a human hour for a change.  Again, a very easy journey and before we knew it, we're back in Heathrow waiting for the coaches to take us back to Cardiff.  It's been a lovely few days and a very nice way to round off the season.  We hit the ground running when the new season starts in September with another Prom quickly followed by Mahler 1 and 3 and a LOT of recording, so for now, I shall sign off.  Turn the kettle on and pass me my summer read novel - I'm on holiday now!



Fiona Talkington bids goodbye to the mountains of Molde.

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Fiona Talkington Fiona Talkington | 15:42 UK time, Monday, 2 August 2010

Sunday morning after the last night of Moldejazz and I take a last lingering look at the blue mountains and the clear waters of the fjord before heading south.  At Oslo I say goodbye to some of the musicians and head for Gate 51 and the flight home to London. 

mountains.jpgSitting there gives me plenty of time to remember some of the great music I've heard. The mountains are home to the legendary guitarist Terje Rypdal and I had the pleasure of sharing the ferry ride from Molde across the fjord with him. Even in this year of Moldejazz's 50th anniversary, Terje is fired up about future projects. Sitting in the front row at his trio's concert at Molde (Terje; Miroslav Vitous: bass; Gerald Cleaver:drummer ) was magical. As ever with his playing there are sounds which are unlike no others, sounds to hold on to in my memory.  "If Mountains Could Sing" is the title of one of his abums. Where Terje comes from they do.

The final night inlcuded a sublimely beautiful concert by another Nordic piano trio, the Espen Eriksen Trio (Espen Eriksen: piano; Lars Tormod Jenset: bass; Andreas Bye: drums) whose recent release "You Had Me At Goodbye" revealed music of great beauty with wit and a spirit of adventure.  And then one of the reasons I'd stayed so long in Molde and missed Womad, the duo of guitarist Stian Westerhus and vocalist Sidsel Endresen.  Sidsel's mastery of vocal techniques and her profound instinct for making music which is engaging, challenging, mesmerising and so often heartbreakingly beautiful has earned her the highest respect in Norwegian music and worldwide. If this had been a tennis match it would have been the breathtaking assuredness of Bjorn Borg versus perhaps a young Goran Ivanisovic, eyes sparkling with sportsmanlike danger. But this wasn't a competition, it was a first step on a journey of musical minds and hearts which promises so much.  At least I'll get another chance to hear them at Punkt in September.

Ketil_Bjornstad2.jpgBut, sitting in the airport's departure lounge, if I needed any solace in leaving Norway, it was in thinking about pianist and composer Ketil Bjornstad's Antonioni Project from earlier in the week. Everything Ketil touches turns to beauty, and sitting behind him that evening, watching his joy in directing such a stellar line up - Arild Andersen on bass, Marilyn Mazur on drums, Andy Shepard playing sax, Anja Lechner on cello and Eivind Aarset playing guitar - the tears rolled down my cheeks.


Picture of Ketil Bjornstad courtesy John Kelman.   

Katie Derham plays second fiddle.

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Katie Derham Katie Derham | 14:46 UK time, Monday, 2 August 2010

What would you give to turn back the clock and have another chance at Youth Orchestra? Proms presenter Katie Derham has just had that very opportunity... 

Many years ago, my best friend at school, Premila, was in the National Youth Orchestra. She was an awesome musician and in the NYO for flute and harp. She would tell me great stories about the residential courses in the school holidays where she seemed to have the best time and play music to an exceptional standard. Her playing was always in a different league when she got back from those courses.  A little envious, but realistic about my own talent on the violin,  I knew I'd never get anywhere close to being in an orchestra of teenagers of whom 75 percent will go on to be professionals. So imagine, dear reader, the general state of febrile over excitement I'm currently in. In a scene worthy of Jim'll Fix It, the power of the Proms has just realised a long held dream; I've just spent the last 2 hours in a National Youth Orchestra rehearsal, at the back of the second violins, playing Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. I may not quite have managed ALL the notes in QUITE the right order, to misquote Andre Previn on Morecambe and Wise, and I'm certainly no teenager anymore, but when I'm old and grey, I will now be able to tell my grandchildren that I played my violin under internationally renowned Maestro, Semyon Bychkov.prom29_semyon_bychkov.jpg And it was amazing, absorbing, terrifying and brilliant.

The NYO prom is always a highlight of the season - the sheer number of young people on stage, for a start, makes it quite the event; at the last count I think there were 160 of them! But it's the enthusiasm and the energy that sweeps the audience along and the astounding accomplishment of the players, some as young as 14. This year, on Saturday 7th August (shown on BBC2 on August 21st) they're going to be playing the Sorcerer's Apprentice (how appropriate ...) then, with a neat link and a nod to Disney, the Fantasias by Julian Anderson, in its European premiere. Then the Berlioz. A whopper of a symphony, with musical experimentation, jokes galore and some absolutely gorgeous tunes. Having had the pleasure of hearing the Berlioz first hand this afternoon I can tell you it's going to be a great show (and decidedly better for the absence of a certain rusty fiddle player lurking at the back!). I can't wait to see them backstage at the Royal Albert Hall where I suspect their excitement will exceed even my own. I'm also looking forward to hearing some more gossip, as I suspect there are a hundred stories that we weren't told during the rehearsal. 160 teenagers and no gossip? I don't think so! Oh, and special thanks to Izzy  (2nd violin) for showing me the ropes and for lending me her spare mute - I haven't forgotten!! I'll give it back to you on Saturday, I promise!

  • Prom 29. Saturday 7th August, 2010.


Photo of Semyon Bychkov copyright Sheila Rock.  

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