In 2010, when the ash cloud crippled European air traffic for a few days after the eruption of the Barbarbunga volcano in Iceland, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski was packing his bags in Poznan, Poland for a brief visit to his old band, The Hallé, in Manchester.
When he learned of the ash cloud grounding his flight he decided quickly. He hired a taxi and two drivers. 800 miles and 24 hours later he arrived in Manchester exhausted but exhilarated to be with The Hallé again.
He was 87 at the time.
On Tuesday he returns to Manchester to conduct Brahms 4th Symphony, Schumann cello concerto with our own Nicholas Trygstad and Weber’s Der Freischütz overture.
As we have become accustomed to, he will greet the orchestra enthusiastically, looking around the band for familiar faces.
Then he will explain that “this right eye is not so good these days” and “this left eye is almost blind”. Followed by “my dear friends, it’s so good to see you!”
Rehearsals will be on the short side and communication difficult at times.
Yet, once he picks up the baton the conversation will take care of itsself, through music.
The band calls him ’Stan the Man’, affectionately.
It is with awe and respect that we welcome him to Manchester again.
right: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski rehearsing at Hallé St Peter’s in 2013
I was sad to learn of the death of Michael Kennedy, who was one of the great names in classical music journalism; documenting musical life in Manchester for some 70 years, editing the Oxford Dictionary of Music and writing acclaimed biographies of many composers, including Elgar, Britten and Strauss. A leading authority on many aspects of British musical life, he was associated with some of the past century’s finest musicians and composers, and was a personal friend of Tippett, Barbirolli and Vaughan Williams.
Born in Chorlton in 1926, Kennedy started out as a copyboy on the Northern edition of the Daily Telegraph, but soon began reviewing concerts, returning from the Free Trade Hall and working through the night to meet deadlines. He rose to become editor of the newspaper, and later became the chief music critic of the Sunday Telegraph, for which he still wrote well into his 80s.
The last time I saw him was at a Hallé concert. The enormous amount of respect and admiration from my colleagues for this man was entirely justified, for, apart from his enthusiastic energy for music, one of the things we all loved most about Michael Kennedy was his commitment and loyalty to the city in which he was born, and the musical life that has always thrived here.
A devoted patron and advocate of all of Manchester’s orchestras, it was undoubtedly the Hallé that was closest to his heart. Following his 1960 biography of the orchestra, he has supported it through good and bad days, and just last year sang Mark Elder’s praises, telling his interviewer: “I never thought the glory days of Barbirolli would come back again, but they have”. I’m so glad that the boy from Chorlton, who loved classical music so much, saw the Hallé on such a high. Manchester’s musical life, in which he had such faith, shall miss him.
In 1936 Dimitri Shostakovich first fell from favour with the Russian authorities. The Soviet newspaper Pravda described the music in his opera Lady Macbeth as “Muddle Instead of Music”.
Clearly this arrogant remark was aimed at destabilising and tarnishing Shostakivich’s image; it succeeded entirely. He received an official ban which Shostakovich was persuaded to present as a voluntary withdrawal of his 4th Symphony. Whatever the case, it seems possible that this action saved the composer’s life: during this time Shostakovich feared for himself and his family. He was forced to lay low and it wasn’t until the release of his 5th symphony that he regained favour.
“I’ll never believe that a man who understood nothing could feel the Fifth Symphony.” Was Shostakovich’s reaction to the enthusiastic reception Stalin gave the symphony.
Perseverance is the daily staple of the artist. For most, daily stretches to weekly, monthly and yearly. A classical musician in a professional symphony orchestra will have done on average fifteen years of practise, up to eight hours a day (more if you’re a pianist) to reach the standard expected in the profession today.
Pravda’s “Muddle Instead of Music” is especially insulting as it suggests that no editing process has been applied to “Lady Macbeth”; as if the opera is just a rough first draft brainstorm and has been presented as such to the audience. This arrogant assumption is what hurts the artist most; not the criticism of his art, but the assumption that he hasn’t honed his work to the absolute best that he can deliver before launching it to the general public.
Shostakovich, like any other composer, will have grown his work through a painstaking, deliberate process. Pravda’s choice of words is interesting, but back to front; applied to the works of any creative artist “Music Through Muddle” would be a more appropriate description of the creative process.
Just like Audi’s slogan “Vorsprung Durch Technik” – Advantage Through Technology – “Music Through Muddle” suggests there is a process through which a result is achieved. Or in Audi’s case, an advantage being achieved through a process.
Just like a crescendo to forte starts as a piano and is a homogenous process unless marked otherwise, any work of art starts as a muddle. Be it a music composition, a sculpture or a block buster novel with international film rights: it’s started with some diffuse idea somewhere at the back of someone’s mind.
In 1994, ex-professional pilot Armand Diangienda had an idea.
(and now I hand over to my colleague Cheryl Law for this week’s guest post):
Mention of the Democratic Republic of the Congo may evoke thoughts of a nation struggling in the shadow of civil war and poverty, but over the last 20 years a remarkable musical feat has been achieved in the sprawling metropolis of Kinshasa, Africa’s third largest city and home to 9 million people.
It all started in 1994, when former professional pilot, Armand Diangienda, launched Central Africa’s only symphony orchestra in his home, with 12 wannabe musicians and not quite enough instruments. Today L’Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste is a huge success story, with one international tour already under its belt, and its UK debut took place on 11th September 2014 in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, in a ground-breaking collaboration with the Hallé.
For the musicians of OSK, life is not always easy. Brought together by the love of music-making, many of the orchestra’s members struggle to make ends meet. Innovative improvisation is a part of everyday life and their gritty commitment to their art is frankly admirable. There’s the viola-playing electrician and hairdresser, who is frequently called upon to fix the lights in rehearsals, and the cellist who gets up at 5 am to sell omelettes in the local market before walking for hours to rehearsals which can go on late into the evening. Some play on home-made instruments, and they ad lib when things go wrong; modelling violin strings from bike brake cables, and copying scores out by hand.
Diangienda’s dream to build a symphony orchestra has come a long way since he turned his home into a make-shift conservatoire, and last year he was awarded membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society, an honour previously bestowed on the likes of Brahms and Mendelssohn. It’s well deserved; injecting hope into the lives of people struggling with incessant daily challenges, Diangienda has, in one of the world’s poorest nations, created riches that money could never buy.
Each time I go on tour I am reminded of the unsung heroes of travelling orchestras. They don’t take a bow, but behind every successful tour is a slick operation that happens as if by magic. It begins days before the musicians have even boarded the plane, when thousands of pounds worth of precious instruments, music and music stands are carefully packed into reinforced trunkers, loaded onto a lorry, ferry or plane, and finally driven hundreds of miles, across borders, through the night, and intostrange cities.
The drivers of these lorries are the linchpins of an orchestral tour. As well as being HGV drivers, Stage Managers of orchestras have to negotiate unfamiliar laws which prevent lorries from driving on foreign motorways or cities on Sundays, because concerts happen on Sundays too. They check the trunkers to make sure they only contain what they are supposed to, and not stray books, clothes, shoes or even wine (yes that did happen once) which might cause them delays at borders. Sometimes they don a smart DJ to move a piano mid-concert, and they probably know how many cello desks there are in a Beethoven piano concerto and how many trumpets in Strauss’s Til Eulenspiegel.
Touring is a fantastic experience for musicians, and the excitement of playing in foreign concert halls is exhilarating. However, once we leave a concert platform most of us don’t spare a thought for what happens next, but, working when the orchestra rests, Stage Managers are always one step ahead of us in our schedule. As we hunt out a “tour bar”, their workday is recommencing on stage, starting with dismantling the magnificent orchestral set. The lorry is carefully reloaded, driven through the night and, hours before the orchestra arrives, unloaded again and a new stage set, ready for another concert in another hall, and so the cycle starts again.
It’s been a heavy couple of weeks on the back shelf at the world famous symphony orchestra that I am privileged to play with. We opened the season last Thursday with a fabulous performance of ‘Daphnis and Cloe’ by Ravel, full forces and the angelic voices of the chorus to spurn us on to fantastic heights (Go here for an interview about the piece with our principal flute). Viktoria Mullova outplayed us all in Shostakovich’s 1st Violin Concerto. The concert was well received with a lot of students and new faces in the very appreciative audience. Thank you, Siemens, for supporting us!
We took the Shostakovich (and Ms Mullova) to Leeds on Saturday, padded it out with Wagner’s ‘Flying Dutchman’ Overture and substituted Daphnis with Sibelius 5th Symphony, a staple in our repertoire. We will be taking “Den Fliegenden Holländer” to Germany on tour next March. The Maestro seems very excited about this; we think he likes taking German music to Germany on tour. He also likes taking English music to Germany on tour, but for some reason, until quite recently, the German audiences didn’t seem to be too keen on it. In March we will be taking the Enigma Variations, Elgar’s absolute blockbuster. The Germans love this one. Even my father.
We did work on Monday this week, which is rare. Monday is our Sunday, normally. Which is great for shopping. Not so good for going out for a meal. The reason for the rehearsal day was that we needed yet another symphony for the Manchester concerts this week and yet another concerto for Nottingham on Tuesday.
What a reception we had in Nottingham! The hall was sold out (or at least it looked it, from the back shelf) and the audience loved it. Paul Lewis performed a wonderful Brahms 1st Piano Concerto (and will continue to do so tonight and Sunday), the Dutchman appeared again and we gave another smashing performance of Sibelius 5, judging by the reaction of the audience. What a treat to play to such a full hall!
Yesterday afternoon we opened this season’s the Opus One Series with the Brahms and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. Fantastic to see that the matinee audiences are growing!
With regards from the back shelf, come and see us some time!
Hallé Education has recently completed an exciting project in the small Derbyshire village of Clowne, which aimed to raise awareness of recycling within the local community through an innovative creative process combining film and music.
Hallé Education worked with the residents of Clowne in 2011 on an incredibly successful project called ‘Heritage Back to the Future’ and we were thrilled to work with this vibrant and committed community again.
The 2013 project, ‘ReCyClowne: A Mission to Save Planet Earth’, enabled a group of students from Heritage High School to create a 15-minute film about recycling in their community, to which a soundtrack was then created.
In the early stages of the project the students, teaching staff and members of the artistic team visited Clover Nook Waste Transfer Station and Bolsover Household Waste Recycling Centre to collect recycled raw materials. These were then used to design and create a new musical sculpture, and film footage from the visits was used to create a film to educate local people about responsible recycling.
Alongside the students ALÉAtronic, the Hallé’s progressive new music ensemble, led by Hallé double bass player and composer, Bea Schirmer, then created a soundtrack to accompany the film, using the new sculpture along with orchestral instruments and music technology.
The final film of the recycling journey was premiered with its live soundtrack by the participants and a larger ensemble of Hallé players at Heritage High School during two unique performances for a capacity crowd of nearly 400 local residents on Friday 19 July 2013. A selection of orchestral repertoire was also performed by the Hallé during this concert, including Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture and movements from Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and Walton’s Façade.
The evening, conducted by the Hallé’s Assistant Conductor, Jamie Phillips, was a great success and Steve Pickett, Hallé Education Director, said of the project:
“This was a brilliant, brilliant project with a fantastic outcome. It was so good to see so many of the local Clowne folk getting their Hallé fix! A supreme effort by our very gifted double bassist, Bea Schirmer! Well done to all.”
The District and County Councils now hope to use the film in other schools and venues across the area to deliver the recycling message and showcase the talents of the school pupils.
Hallé double bass player Beatrice Schirmer has been chosen as the inaugural recipient of the Salomon Prize, a prestigious new prize celebrating the outstanding contribution of orchestral players to the UK’s musical life.
Beatrice Schirmer was chosen from nominations received from orchestras across the UK. Bea, who has been with the Hallé for 19 years, was presented with her award onstage at the Hallé’s concert at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester – and live on BBC Radio 3 – on Wednesday 9 November. She receives a cheque for £1000 and will keep for one year the Salomon Prize Trophy – a soft-ground etching of Salomon made by William Daniell in 1810.
Bea was nominated by her fellow musicians and the Hallé’s management, not just for her considerable skills as a member of the orchestra’s double bass section, but for the extraordinary range of other activities which she has embraced and enriched in almost two decades with the orchestra.
The Salomon Prize citation from the RPS and ABO: “Double bassist Beatrice Schirmer has been at the heart of the life of the Hallé for nearly twenty years. She has always given her time freely to support the individual players as well as the orchestral community. As a union representative she ensures clear communication between the players and administration as well as making sure she is always across any current issues which affect the rchestra. Beatrice is a founder member of the new music ensemble ALEAtronic and has an indefatigable passion and dedication for the Hallé’s education work. This was highlighted in last season’s community project in Clowne, Derbyshire for which she produced a full musical score as well as helping with technical and sound production. Beatrice Schirmer is an asset to her colleagues, to the Hallé and the profession. It is with great pleasure that the first Salomon Prize is awarded to her.”
Many thanks to David and Selina Marks for supporting the award.