When you think of a DJ, you probably wouldn’t consider them enjoying classical music… but now you will

I am very much in the camp of if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. The internet these days is full of people saying why they don’t like things. Worse, like the terraces at 50% of football games (where the teams lose more than they win) it is full of people who think they could do better, despite the overwhelming evidence that they are stood on the terraces, not gracing the pitch with their hitherto undiscovered Pele-esque.

Equally, no one wants to to read someone just going on about how amazing something is. If they did, we’d all still be reading Russell Brand’s autobiography (out now, on Hodder & Stoughton, 4 stars out of 5 actually). So, whilst I hope to never share a review of something I simply don’t like, I can’t just write love letters to events can I?

It is convenient them, that the opening, at least, of the Ashwell Trio’s “Sunday Series” concert, was something I didn’t really “get”.

The chap playing the French Horn (I’m pretty sure it was a French Horn; you’ll gather as a DJ my grasp of the complexities of music only goes to knowing the wrong words to the chorus), did the intro duties. Much of what he was saying made sense – I particularly related to his passionate defense of the importance of playing not just old music. I am only too aware that a lot of the time my sets involve nothing more up to date than than Kernkraft 400’s 1999 opus “Zombie Nation” (the dance music equivalent of Eine kleine Nachtmusik). I suspect for a classical trio, playing contemporary music involves something more than just buying a couple of tracks at 79p off I-Tunes – such are the mysteries of musicianship.

The part I didn’t fully follow, was when he made two jokes about the arrangements of the music they’d be performing. I couldn’t even tell you what words were used… But the crowd went wild!

I mean, people weren’t throwing their hats in the air and collapsing into the aisles in helpless hysteria, but these jokes really went off. I didn’t even know what the joke was. Anyway, it put everyone in a good mood – maybe apart from me, as I was worrying maybe he’d made a joke about the rubbish DJ he heard last night playing Zombie Nation.

My lack of understanding of the vernacular of classical music comes from the being a ‘sports casual’ enjoyer of the form. I own classical music, but with the exception of a couple of pieces, it is very much “Now That’s What I Call the Hits of Classical Music”, and I keep the CDs next to the soundtracks of my favorite films, because they are more or less the same, right?

Thus, some of the nuance of the scene passes me by: in the second half of the show, the penultimate selection was very easy going and I found my attention wandering, rather than noting the notes they didn’t play – I was wondering: obviously the violinist will bring his own violin, the French Hornist (hornist?) will bring his fave French Horn… But does the Pianist bring their own pian? That must surely make his the short straw? Travel logistics alone must be a nightmare – “I’m sorry sir, the regulations on hand luggage are QUITE strict at Ryan Air, there is simply no way that will fit in the overhead locker.”

There also seems to be some unspoken code as to when you can clap at these shows. I think it’s something to do with if one piece is followed by another from the same overall composition. I guess that means if classical fans went to a Slipknot gig, they wouldn’t know if they could clap after “All Hope is Gone” because they might follow it with something from the album of the same name.

Another quirk is they (spoiler alert) tell you what pieces will be performed at the outset. There is no: “God, I really hope they do ‘D 759 unfinished 1 opening’, from Schubert’s 8th, like they did in Stockholm last year”. They aren’t going to, Malcolm, it’s written right there in the programme notes.

At classical concerts there is generally one piece I don’t like. That’s fine; if you expect to like everything all the time, you will have to be so broad in your tastes that you have all the discrimination of a dog eating out of a bin. After the first three – absolutely stunning – pieces by the same composer (so no clapping in between, right?) they went back stage briefly – presumably to high-five each other and fist bump, because they nailed it – then performed a new piece, to which they had previously alluded. “New” in the world of classical, means anything that came out in the last 50 years, and this really was quite contemporary, coming from 2008. This was the one, today, I didn’t really care for. It was an angsty piece reminiscent of the scene where the crime is getting committed in every episode of Sherlock Holmes (the Jeremy Brett Holmes, not the other).

I can’t argue abut how it was played, they executed it perfectly; but the nature of the piece was such that when I closed my eyes, I could only picture a sinister eye-browed villain in a cape and preposterous hat, creeping around with a malevolent glint in their eye, doing someone in. Which was fine for 2 minutes, but it lasted 10.

Nevertheless, as I goes, I absolutely applaud the inclusion of it; music cannot simply live in the past, and new things have to be tried out. Anyway, everyone else seemed to like it. Maybe they are all psychopaths, or maybe I’m just too much of a precious snowflake.

Half-time break:

The biscuit selection at HIF Sunday Series is always great, and this year I was accompanied by my pregnant girlfriend, which meant that I could go back to the table and act like they were for her, and pocket a bunch more. A kind of light shortbread, very crisp and easy to eat, I would rate these biscuits as 5 stars out of 5. My only regret is that I didn’t take more.

The second half began with someone called Mozart, who is a composer I can really see doing great things. They were the most laid back selections of the day, and maybe a safe choice, but there is nothing wrong with giving the people what they want, and duly we were eased nicely back into things.

The final quarter of the show comprised of 4 short pieces, the third of which I could have perhaps lived without as it was a bit too gentle for my tastes, but the second had been so good I didn’t really care.

Finishing with an uptempo colorful flourish, the show had set us up nicely for Sunday lunch, for which we headed to a packed Fodder.

With the exception of the modern murder piece, all of these works have had to be re-arranged for the trio of instruments used. That was for me the most interesting part of it all. The musicians worked incredibly in tune with each other; I couldn’t see any visual cues, yet they were always in perfect synchronicity, harmonies were exquisitely done, and your attention was drawn between each instrument subtly. It didn’t feel as though there were specific solos with the other instruments stepping back – more that, in their turn, each player would draw your attention by themselves, and tell you a specific part of the story. Then before you knew it, without realizing, you were focused on another, giving voice to a different mood or passage. It was wonderfully subtle, and you wouldn’t know these pieces had not been originally written with these instruments in mind, so well did they work in concert.

I gather that the wild card instrument in the trio is the French Horn, and I think it was that which really gave a great depth and curious tone to everything. It wasn’t weird, but it was different, and delightfully so!

Over the meal the consensus was that this really is a great way to spend Sundays, and resolved to do it again. Incidentally, if you are in the market for a whopping Yorkshire Pudding and exceptional cauliflower cheese, I also recommend Fodder to you! There are two more shows to come in the Sunday Series, The Esme Quartet on the 15th of March, and Joseph Moog on the 5th of April. As is standard for this range of concerts, I expect them to be nothing short of excellent, just please don’t ask me when it’s ok to clap.

Looking to the next of our Sunday Series Concerts, we welcome the Esme Quartet to Harrogate! More info here https://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/sunday-series/esme-quartet-2/

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