Friday 28 March 2014

First Time Live Youth in Grimsby

First Time Live with the RPO in Doncaster on Tue 25 March. Photo credit Paul Coghlin.
First Time Live with the RPO in Doncaster on Tue 25 March.
Photo credit Paul Coghlin.
My second visit to the Grimsby Auditorium in two days had the same orchestra on the platform (the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), the same conductor (Benjamin Pope) but a very different audience. (See my review of the RPO's concert) As we arrived at the auditorium on the afternoon of 28 March streams of school children were queuing up to go in. We were greeted at the welcome desk by two local girls, and shown to our seats by a young usher. This event was organised as one of the national music charity Orchestras Live's First Time Live Youth event so that local young people were involved in every aspect of the performance. 

The audience was largely made up of primary school children from local schools. The adults in the audience were mainly teachers and those accompanying the children, but we were seated the small area at the back of the circle reserved for adult visitors. A screen at the back of the stage displayed the Orchestras Live and First Time Live logos, then Benjamin Pope came on and the orchestra struck up Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. When it had finished two of the presenters came out to introduce the conductor, orchestra and the music. The presenters were also local young people.

The five presenters were part of a group of local young people who had been involved in every aspect of the production of the concert, from planning and scheduling to presenting, lights and manning the box office. The programme for the event was chosen by the young people, as was the manner of its presentation.

When each piece started the screen at the back of the orchestra displayed the name of the composer and the piece, along with suitable images but for the remainder of the time it showed close up images of the orchestra from cameras in the auditorium. This was highly effective, enabling close-ups of soloists in the orchestra that it would be difficult for the audience to see properly. The lighting was also very creative, and of course the cameras and the lighting desk were manned by the young people.

The programme was overall quite a standard selection of pieces which you might expect at a young peoples' concert, after the Copland we got Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King, the final movement of Mozart's Fourth Horn Concerto (with soloist Laurence Davies, principal horn of the RPO), Angry Birds which is the music from a popular game, Pirates of the Caribbean, Rimsky Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee, Shostakovitch's Festive Overture, John Adams Shaker Loops, Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie, John Williams' Nimbus 2000 from Harry Potter and John Williams opening theme for Star Wars.

Benjamin Pope conducting with a cutlass, First Time Live with the RPO in Doncaster on Tue 25 March. Photo credit Paul Coghlin.
Benjamin Pope conducting with a cutlass,
First Time Live with the RPO in Doncaster
on Tue 25 March.
Photo credit Paul Coghlin.
Each piece was introduced by one or two of the young presenters, sometimes just explaining the work and sometimes bringing in a humorous story. Angry Birds involved two of the presenters fighting over whether to have the music on or off when playing the game (with the orchestra providing the stop start music, much to the amusement of the audience). For the music from Harry Potter, Benjamin Pope had to conduct with a wand, wearing an elaborate hat and coloured robe, and for the music from Star Wars there was the inevitable Darth Vader mask and light wand! Throughout Pope displayed extreme good humour and an easy interaction with the young presenters, becoming part of the act.

Whilst some of the introductions were relatively obvious, others displayed a quirky imagination and were clearly keeping the young people in the audience involved. For the music from Pirates of the Caribbean,  Pope's music had been lost and so Joe (one of the presenters) had to play the main theme on the keyboards as a solo (which he did too, and very good he was!) whilst another presenter used a treasure map with the help of the audience to find the lost music. For the Shostakovich one of the presenters told one of the front desk cellos that he looked tired and that he was at an age when he needed a rest, he went off to be replaced by a local young cellist Catherine who not only played the Shostakovich but had the video camera trained on her throughout the performance.  Prior to performing Shostakovich's overture, Pope took it to pieces getting the different sections of the orchestra to play their main melody, to helpful effect in what is a remarkably busy piece.

One piece had been composed by the young people themselves, pupils from Havelock Academy and Humberstone School had collaborated with the RPO's Education team to write a piece which was then played by the orchestra along with a number of the young people. This piece required a sung component, which was taught to the audience so that they joined in as well.

Before the performance of the Mozart concerto, soloist Laurence Davies got interviewed by one of the presenters, talking about the horn and what it was like to play it. One introduction was a particular coup. Before the performance of John Adams Shaker Loops there was a video interview with the composer. John Adams' contribution had in fact been pre-recorded, but it was edited by the young producers responsible for the concert and presented in a way which made it apparently live, a rather neat piece of showmanship.  For the performance of Shaker Loops there was an imaginative video accompaniment which had been made by some of the young people from the media team.

Throughout the concert, the performances from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were excellent, with no sense of going through a routine so that the event was enjoyable at many different levels, whether adult, child or young person. My companion at the concert was a cousin who does not attend many classical music events and both of us enjoyed the concert as much as the young audience. The concert lasted well over an hour and the young audience were clearly involved from start to finish. The combination of fine performances, humour and involvement of local young people clearly worked very well. By the end of the concert there was no sense of restlessness from the young audience and you felt that they had been captivated and involved.

I have nothing but admiration for the young people who presented and organised the concert. Whilst we only saw the five young presenters, they were in fact part of a larger team who were involved everywhere.

The First Time Live Youth concept is a highly imaginative way of introducing young people of all ages to classical music. Orchestras Live's First Time Live Youth events for 2014 include not only Grimsby, but March (Cambridgeshire), Peterborough, Purfleed (Essex), Doncaster and Mansfield. Let us hope that there are lots more to come.

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