Thursday, 4 January 2007

behind the orchestra

Sitting in amongst an orchestra as they perform music is a wonderful experience. This evening I enjoyed this privilege at the final rehearsal of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, to be performed this weekend by the National Youth Orchestra under guest conductor Richard Hickox. They're with Susan Bullock soprano, Philip Langridge tenor, Neal Davies baritone, the London Symphony Chorus and Tiffin Boys' Choir. Friday they are in St Paul's Cathedral, and Sunday they're at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

The first time I heard Britten's War Requiem was in Coventry Cathedral in 1962 - its premier. It had been commissioned by Coventry Cathedral - apt because of the wartime destruction of the original Coventry Cathedral and it was performed in the year of the new Cathedral's consecration. Much of the libretto comprises the powerful war poetry of Wilfred Owen. Britten conducted that first performance.

The joy this evening was to be among the people making the music - sensing their concentration, being stirred as bodies made ready to create the next flow of sound. I was able to be there because my brother is one of the NYO professors - and the New Year NYO course is in Radley College - and their full rehearsals today were in Oxfordshire County Music Service premises at Barton, just up the road from me.

The logistics at the end of researsal are impressive, getting scores of young musicians and their instruments from the rehearsal venue into their lorry, van and coaches, in the right sequence, so that tomorrow the harps and percussion can head off earlier for St Paul's to be set up first, and everyone and everything else to follow on slightly later.

And at 9.30pm, after a long day, the young musicians get to stack all the chairs before heading off to Radley. Not all glamour, but it's better than the trenches.

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