Friday 18 January 2008

Total Immersion

Tonight we are going to one (or maybe two) concerts in the BBC's weekend celebration of the music of Judith Weir at the Barbican. For a devoted music lover, prepared to give the whole weekend over to attending events at the Barbican, there is a brilliant mix of concerts, films and events.

The BBC's annual single composer jamboree is a fine example of a particular type of promotional event, one that allows the interested parties to undergo total immersion in the music of choice. Of course, this is not for everyone but the advantage of such events is that those interested can cherry pick.

For me the problem with such total immersion festivals is that I want to hear/see everything, but not in such close proximity. I need time to digest and recover. Tonight is a good case in point. There is a concert in the Barbican Hall at 7pm is followed by a BBC Singers concert at 9.30pm in St. Giles Cripplegate.

At the BBC's James MacMillan jamboree this format was also followed on the Friday evening and that time, I did attend both concerts. By the time it came to the late evening concert, I was feeling a little jaded having done a full day's work and attended a complete concert already. As it was the combination of the BBC Singers fabulous performances with MacMillan's haunting choral music made a big impression. I only hope the same can happen this year, as I am sure it will.

One of the advantages from the BBC's point of view is that single composer choral concerts (such as the all MacMillan concert or the all Weir concert) are perhaps not quite as 'sexy' as the bigger events. So it might be easier to attract an audience when they are performed in such a festival circumstances. This is of course an interesting moot point. Would the BBC Singers get a good audience if they simply turned up and did an all Weir or all MacMillan concert at 7.30pm one Friday during the year?

Such jamborees are, of course, tiring for the performers. The BBC forces are appearing at a number of events throughout the weekend and so the singers and musicians have quite a heavy load of rehearsal and performance. This is not necessarily all bad as, for a difficult composer, it gives the performers time to accustom themselves to the style. Another interesting point, is it easier to perform the music of, say, Gubaidulina, if you are giving a sequence of 3 or 4 concerts rather than just a single one?

My own preference would be for a festival spread over a greater period of time, say three weekends. Close enough so that the marketing people could still create the buzz of a festival, but with enough distance between the events so that old fogies like myself could recover!

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