You know what, Spira Mirabilis should get a support band.
They were at the Queen Elizabeth Hall yesterday, playing Schubert’s Octet. The hall was busy, they got a great reception, there may well be a review or two out shortly. I found it a really stimulating performance in lots of ways. The group evidently spend a lot of time on the detail of whatever piece they are working on, and I love trying to imagine, from their performance, what they might have talked about in rehearsals.
(I bet, for instance, that there was a good deal of conversation, and probably some disagreement, about retuning at the start of the fourth movement, a set of variations for which the clarinettist has to swap instruments. If they did, it worked: the sound colouring of the ensemble changed noticeably.)
I also love listening to first violin Lorenza Borrani, so carefully and thoughtfully does she go about the business of shaping and articulating what she plays. Even the frickin tremolando at the start of the finale! Really, if you’re a violinist and have any pretensions to artistry, she’s one of the people to listen to. Then there can be no excuse for boring playing, can there?
It’s part of Spira’s schtick that they play only one piece in a concert – they explained their reasons to me last year in an interview for Classical Music magazine (in which they also take issue with they way they are misrepresented by certain promoters, journalists and the like. Seriously, if you risk falling into these categories, I wish you would read the piece because it’s quite possible you’ve been given the wrong idea about them.)
Nonetheless, no doubt fearful of short-changing the QEH crowd, the Southbank programmers decided that the hour-long Octet would not constitute a full evening’s entertainment. So they got Kate Royal in to sing a selection of Schubert songs by way of a second half. I gather from my mate (full disclosure: it was the reviewer from the Arts Desk, with whom I went as a plus-one) that she was good, but the sudden switch from all that colour and texture and variety to a mini-Lieder recital was not for me. I’m a bit allergic to the form anyway, but it seemed like odd programming. All very well to pass it off as a Schubertiade but the QEH’s ranks of numerous seats doesn’t really evoke that kind of intimate, informal occasion.
Now, you wouldn’t describe Kate Royal and Malcolm Martineau as anyone’s support act. So if promoters such as the Southbank do feel squeamish about being seen to provide only providing half a concert, why not ask Spira to recommend a group or individual musician to go on before them? Use the spare time as an opportunity to give someone unfamiliar a bit of exposure?