So, this is a departure for the Hidden Crate I know but we’ve been conscripted as “Prombassadors” for Bristol’s progressive take on London’s 120 year old classical tradition. We’re not there for every event and will be regrettably otherwise engaged on the triumphant last night, but for the next four day’s we’ll be reporting on all manner of classical goings on at the Bristol Old Vic and the second Bristol Proms.
Following last year’s Singing In the Dark, Tom Williams returned with Bristol Proms’ in-house Erebus Ensemble to take on the reverentially exacting choral works of Bach. We were promised purity, intimacy – and after a brief introduction from the Bristol Old Vic’s Artistic Director Tom Morris in which he repealed the festival’s keenness for photographic tweeting on this occasion (it would be distracting – and it would be dark), that’s what we got.
I experienced an unexpectedly giddy thrill as the swiftly-dimming lights first plunged us into the abyss, and genuine chills – in waves – as voices boomed around me.
Due to the challenges of Bach’s intricate material low-level light, rather than pitch dark, was variously employed, and augmented by the use of movement among the singers. The dim also afforded one shocking and unexpected realisation, deep into the performance, that we were watching a choral ensemble performing in their socks!
Nevertheless, the sacred nature of the music necessitated a degree of reverence from both performers and audience alike, so if the Bristol Proms were going to be testing the boundaries of classical music’s presentation we were being eased in gently.
The sensory deprivation of Bach In the Dark was followed by a huge screen boasting close-ups, alternative angles and visual effects as Bach night continued with virtuoso violinist Lisa Batiashvili – joined on stage by her charismatic husband Francois Leleux in what was a genial yet highly emotive performance.
The stripped back grandiosity of the theatre was echoed by the ensemble’s relaxed dress and even their numbers as Batiashvili took Bach back to its chamber music roots.
The first of the Late Night Proms also saw the first tangible crossover in audience demographic, the draw of a Goldfrapp connection and the fondness felt for obsolete synthesisers among a wider music culture meaning that while not many attendees would be requiring proof of age at the bar Will Gregory’s Moog Ensemble had a smattering of relative youth in the Pit.
The Bach connection was upheld via a rendition of his 3rd Brandenburg Concerto, a feature of the classic 1968 muzak sensation Switched On Bach, an admitted inspiration for the ensemble. Along with other exponents of “the period thing” were original compositions (including a piece composed entirely of manipulated white noise) and film scores – all met by a visuals team overlaying the nob-twiddling exploits with corresponding syn waves and carrying that heavy association with educational broadcasting of the early 1980s.
Almost surprising was the frequency with which the often high camp of noodling synths irresistably yielded to the integrity of composition, and how the sense of irony with which this particular recital was delivered belied a clear and unshakable fondness for these unwieldy music machines.