Day two at the Bristol Proms saw less of a concise theme than Bach Night, but common threads began to appear across all the performances so far.
Chinese virtuoso pianist Ji Liu, like Lisa Batiashvili yesterday, introduced a piece with a very personal connection to his early career; the Erebus Ensemble clung to the shadows during The Songs That Went To War; and of course the visual augmentation continued to connect the audience and performer in evermore compelling ways.
It is arguable that there is not a more fitting subject on the festival roster than Ji Liu. Young, approachable, media savvy; Liu is every inch the affable superstar in a mod-ish, slim black suit and fabulous, shimmering diamanté shoes.
It was the first time we’ve come to a music event here and I think it’s a brilliant venue for it because you have this tremendous sense of intimacy. And i thought the talk that he gave before each of his pieces added a lot. His personality really came through.
Initially shy and apparently reluctant to introduce the pieces he was to perform, Liu soon warmed to the role, and the audience to him. Cage’s 4’33 was to be a collaborative effort between us and himself, and we all made a pretty decent stab at an observed silence.
Well I just thought it was brilliant, it was just so fabulous to hear and to have the visuals behind as well, to be able to see the scale of his finger work. It was just incredible. And his face, to watch his face.
During Bach’s Goldberg Variations a myriad camera angles presented the staggering pace, dexterity and emotion in the pianist’s performance in a truly artful and considered fashion, and in a sharp monochrome that perfectly matched Liu’s image.
Having attended Jonothan James’ first Inside the Music talk War and Music earlier in the day I felt to some degree primed for The Songs That Went To War. Chummy and erudite, James had contextualised what was happening in music before the outbreak of WW1 before leading us through music for the Front, from the Front and for catharsis (after the Front). The evening’s exploration of such works however, were to prove far more insightful and moving than I could have imagined.
A conversation between Tom Morris and folk singer and collector John Tams together with the singalong choruses of a selection of marching favourites kept the first part of this last event chatty and relaxed. The influence of music hall and the role of a rural folk tradition were discussed, new songs shared along with pieces from Tams’ contributions to War Horse, before the Erebus Ensemble ghosted out of the darkness in a medieval reveal of gravitas.
The Proms’ choir in residence presented Herbert Howells’ Requiem after an intermission. Interspersed with snippets of witness testimonial and closing with a projected wall of portraits of the fallen, this was an intense and powerful conclusion to the evening’s reflections.
Indeed it is hard to articulate the conflicted beauty of being in the presence of this requiem; like joining an at once communal and yet deeply personal conversation with God in His language. It was all enough to make one believe.
Certainly there could be no more fitting tribute to those who took the songs to war.