For a moment it felt as if the fruity string accompaniment near the start of Tim Garland‘s Songs to the North Sky was actually going to help warm the place through. But the packed audience mostly resisted the temptation to cuddle up and maybe get smoochy for a bit.
Not that it would necessarily have been out of place. City of London Sinfonia’s CLoSer sessions at the Village Underground, a reclaimed warehouse (of course) in Shoreditch (of course!) aim for a certain informality.
So you can get drinks from the bar, but it’s still obviously a concert with performers at one end of the space and audience lined up in front of them in the manner so perceptively described by comedian Mitch Hedberg: as if, he said, a crowd had been advancing on him and everyone suddenly decided to sit down. (Here there were cushions on the floor at the front, but arranged rather sweetly in more or less serried ranks; I don’t think they were numbered but it looked as if they might have been.) The small orchestra was still arranged in a conventional set-up, though standing. The programme was announced in advance, though there was no printed programme as such, replaced by an announcer and chat between conductor Clark Rundell, saxophonist Garland and principal violin Alexandra Wood.
Actually, the choice of music helped. And god help us that these kind of classical nites should be about the music. I mean, that’s what classical music is, isn’t it? Music for listening to? And therefore the context should be about helping/reinforcing the listener to listen to it?
That’s why it slightly irks me when events are presented principally as being a way of attracting audiences who don’t normally attend classical concerts. Perhaps those of us who do are ourselves crying out for a wider choice of formats, for more appropriate settings. Perhaps music itself yearns for a return to its profane roots, weary of the constant pressure to perform all glossy and slick.
So in the circumstances, the slight pantomime of Schnittke’s Moz-Art a la Haydn wasn’t quite as adolescent (you know what I mean? Much as you admire the rebellious intent, you slightly squirm at the execution. And I quite like Schnittke.) as it might have been in a concert hall. I can tell you that Night Prayers, the Kancheli piece that CLS and Garland played, would definitely have bored me to frustration in a proper auditorium. But here, I was able to tolerate its reverential moonings, tempered as they were by the less hallowed space.
Indeed, the chilly temperature suited it too. It’s funny, we often think of lighting and choreography as being ways of rethinking concert staging, but not temperature. Yet here the cold seemed appropriate, both for the Kancheli and for Garland’s excellent homage to a famously parky part of the world (northern England). The only thing missing were supplies of mulled wine – can’t stand it myself, but you can’t deny that its steamy aura is alluring to many. And the bar would have cleaned up!