I go to a gig and it pretty much CHANGES my LIFE

May 2, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Posted in music, reviews | 2 Comments
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Well, regular reader. You know I’m a bit excitable. You tolerate all manner of burbling about cyclocross racing, noncommittal training, crush-justification, motorist-baiting, and why Sherlock’s violin-playing makes me want to kill people. Classical music, though? Stay with me. You can do it.

Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a froth over Iestyn Davies. After years spent carefully avoiding classical music, his madly ravishing singing crept up on me when I was looking the other way and smacked me forcibly around the chops, and I’ve not been the same since.

On the basis of personal recommendation from the man HIMSELF, I booked tickets to How Pure The Sky, part of Aurora Orchestra’s New Moves initiative.

iestyn tweet re. how pure

I was pretty excited about the programme: I didn’t know any of it (remember, I’ve had my fingers in my ears for the last fifteen years), but some of it was contemporary, and going to see Psappha used to get me all animated. My Mum agreed to come, even though she doesn’t really approve of anything composed after 1750. (Me [reading programme out to her on phone]: ‘Herbert Howells…’ Her: ‘Well, I won’t like THAT.’)

I managed not to spill anything down myself on the train, and arrived at the venue reasonably presentable and hopelessly overexcited. We busied ourselves with the world’s best feedback form (five-point scales: I will endure the concert ° ° ° ° ° I will enjoy the concert). The small orchestra tuned up; second-row tickets turned out to be the best thing EVER, as we were effectively looking up their noses. A few moments of film, heavy on cloudscapes and atmosphere, introduced the evening, and we were off.

My mum was contrite about dissing the Howells, as it was beautiful, but she did a bit of other grumbling: ‘I couldn’t hear him over the orchestra.’ I liked the close interplay; it felt organic, Iestyn’s voice stitched into the music, appearing and disappearing. Being so close to the action gave a completely new perspective; every lift of the conductor’s eyebrows, every sudden grin from a viola player. This was very cool in the Adès, as what sounded like a seamless flow was actually made up of separate notes from different players in an insane feat of timing and accuracy. The Bach wedded an uplifting tune with hellfire-and-damnation lyrics (no doubt where the Smiths got their inspiration from), and the exposed voice in the recitative was thrilling.

chamber organ

It’ll cost ya. Can’t get the parts

In the interval, I learned how you pack up a marimba (astonishingly, the bits you hit get lifted off all in one piece, like a rope bridge), and how you tune a chamber organ (thrust your hand into its innards, suck your teeth and say ‘Just ease off the gas a bit, can you?’)

My main objectives for the concert were:

  1. Don’t clap in the wrong place;
  2. Try to say hallo to Iestyn;

Regarding no. 3, I nearly came unstuck in the Muhly, with its gorgeous, mounting close harmonies and Iestyn’s voice suddenly soaring from the rafters (he’d snuck up onto the balcony). Mum helpfully informed me that Muhly got the idea for drones from singing along to the vacuum cleaner, which brought me safely back down.

On to the Gluck, and another mascara-threatening performance, with orchestra and voice so perfectly balanced that the whole auditorium basically took off in flight. The Schubert – well, although I couldn’t take my eyes off Nicholas Collon and his lovely, fizzy conducting, I wasn’t sure about the Schubert. Mum studied her programme for a while. (Her, afterwards: ‘I WASN’T asleep. I know I looked like I was, but I wasn’t. Don’t you DARE write that.’) To be honest, I’d have preferred to finish on the massive high of the Gluck.

So, all over. Except, of course, it wasn’t. The words Blue skies appeared on the screen, then, a moment later, smiling at me. Everyone laughed. Iestyn strolled in, toting a brolly, and, well, classical singers don’t always quite make the transition into other genres (I’m looking at you, Kiri) but this was lovely: light, witty and bubbly. To my delight, the polite classical-music audience abandoned its decorum and shouted WOO!

It’s hard to do live stuff justice. All through the gig I was thinking, This. I have to remember this. The details are already fading: which piece had the delicious oboe solo? How exactly was the singing different, in the Berlin? It doesn’t matter. I woke up the next morning, my head teeming with glorious music, and still about to POP with the joy of it all. I felt my heart expand. That’s what will stay with me.



Having ticked objectives 1. and 3. off my list, I also managed 2. Not content with singing utterly transcendently marvellously, Iestyn turned out to be lovely, humble and delightful in person, talking to us for ages, signing CDs, etc.. Apparently Jonas Kaufmann needs bouncers to control his ARMIES of fans; I’m ecstatic to have got in before this was necessary, as if there’s any justice, this will be Iestyn’s equivalent of the Oasis-gig-that-if-everyone-who-says-they-went-actually-did-it-must-have-been-at-Milton-Keynes-Bowl. And I was THERE. WAY cooler than you.

iestyn aurora rehearsal

Iestyn Davies in rehearsal with Aurora Orchestra for How Pure The Sky. Picture by Simon Weir


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  1. it’s magic when these things happen, gigs you remember for ever and go back to when the present isn’t so great. They don’t come along very often but when they do…

    • Yeah. Peak experiences! I’ve got a blogpost brewing about the QUEST for JOY. No doubt this will feature…

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