Sunday, January 07, 2007

First Concert of 2007

One of my resolutions for 2007 is to blog about each concert I attend (#2007-16), so, to get things off on the right foot, I will now share my thoughts on my first concert of 2007, Countertenor James Bowman with the London Octave at St. Martin in the Fields, London, on Thurdsday, January 4, 2007, 7:30 p.m.

How could we visit London, even if only for 48 hours, and not seek out a musical event. Katie quickly discovered this concert at the concierge desk of our hotel, and we quickly committed to going to see our first ever concert in London, at St. Martin in the Fields Church, no less.

First, it is difficult to be objective about such an important event in our musical lives - our first London concert. History seeps from the walls of this church, and as an audience member, it is simultaneously glorious and intimidating. I found myself in awe of the situation.

We were at the end of our two week journey, the final night of our vacation, and on a limited budget, so we purchased the cheapest seats, restricted view, at 6 pounds apiece. We were there to hear the music after all, not specifically to watch the musicians.

This put us in the side balcony, in the third row, where you have an excellent view of the ceiling, and can see a quarter of the musicians and the soloist only when standing and leaning forward. It was an amazing experience nontheless.

The acoustics of the church are staggering. You could hear a whisper with wonderful clarity, and the "church effect" of lush sound was in full force. We sat awash in the sounds of Bach and Handel, often with eyes closed, fully experiencing the moment. This is what our travels are about, after all. Having experiences. And this one was a highlight of the London trip.

The concert opened with Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, which epitomized what we were in for - an evening of some of the best known (some might say "overplayed") Baroque music. Yet it seemed appropriate for the evening, and there is nothing quite like hearing this music live.

Other Baroque standards on the program included Bach's Air on a G String (one of the most amusing titles in the history of music), Handel's Overture from Messiah and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. The London Octave is an impressive chamber group, and they provided astute performances, though I was not too overwhelmed by the situation to miss the tuning difficulties in the violins. And as a group that works without a conductor, there were rare but noticable disagreements on tempos between the players, though they were quickly resolved.

But the highlight of the evening was the guest soloist, countertenor James Bowman. For those who have not heard a countertenor, he is the highest of the adult male voice ranges in classical music (other than the legendary castrotti, which have been outlawed for a century based on human rights violations of children). It is amazing to hear a man with such a range and the repertoire was remarkable, including the Bach Cantata "Wiederstehe doch der Suende" and several Handel arias (Handel was one of the most prolific opera composers of his time). He was quite phenomenal, very musical, and in complete control of the orchestra (with the exception of one minor difference of opinion on tempo between two violinists). I'm going to have to seek out some of Mr. Bowman's recordings - though I'm not a huge fan of recorded Baroque music. I much prefer to hear it live, as something is lost in the translation to recording. (As is the case with most classical music, in my opinion.)

What a way to start a new year of concert going! We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and were grateful for the opportunity to hear this beautiful repertoire in such a majestic setting. If this is an omen of the coming year's concerts, it should be a great year.

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