May 132019

#26: See a Live Classical Concert (or, That Time I Was so Overwhelmed I Forgot How to Speak)

When two creative people are in a relationship with each other, inevitably they end up introducing each other to awesome media they might not otherwise have known about. At least, that has certainly been my experience as a writer in a relationship with a musician!

I’ve loved the idea of going to a live classical music concert for years. I lived in Oxford for years, home of amazing concert venues such as the Sheldonian. For some silly reason (probably to do with not having anyone to go with?) I never went. So as part of this project, I decided I’d finally go see some live classical music.

Remember the London adventure I planned for Styx’s birthday? Well, the whole reason we went when we did was so we could go and see the once-a-year, one-night-only performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at the Royal Albert Hall. Carmina Burana is my love’s absolute favourite piece of music, so I was thrilled when I managed to get us tickets (I booked them about 9 months in advance!) I thought about it, but decided NOT to listen to the piece in its entirety ahead of time so that I wouldn’t be going in with any preconceptions on the night.

We arrived at the venue in plenty of time, grabbed a programme and some G&Ts, and found our way to our seats.

Look at the view we had! I did good.

The way this concert works is that in the first half, they play a selection of music by different composers (Wagner and Saint-Saens, in this case) and then play Carmina Burana in its entirety (about an hour long) in the second half.

It features around 400 voices in total, including Goldsmiths Choral Union, English Concert Chorus, Highgate Choral Society and the Southend Boys’ Choir, alongside the three soloists and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Royal Albert Hall is a bizarre and wonderful venue…

I honestly didn’t know what to expect, going in. As an easily-distracted person, would I actually enjoy sitting and listening to music for the best part of two hours?

The answer, as it turns out, was yes and yes and yes. My goodness, this whole concert was incredible. I enjoyed the first half, which was entirely music I’d never heard before, but Carmina Burana was… something else. It’s the kind of piece that sends chills down your spine right from the opening notes. (You probably know part of it even if you don’t think you do – the opening, O Fortuna, has been used in a whole bunch of films and was also the Old Spice ad theme for a while.) I am far from a music expert, but even I could tell that the people playing on stage were some of the most accomplished musicians around. The soloists were incredible – soprano Mary Bevan, in particular, sang things I didn’t even know the human voice could do! Just brilliant.

Outside the Royal Albert Hall after the show

When Styx asked what I thought at the end, I couldn’t find the words for a few minutes. The whole experience was just stunning in such a way as to be kind of overwhelming.

Even if you don’t think you’re a classical music fan, I seriously recommend going to see a concert with musicians at the absolute top of their game at least once.

As an aside – I’ve now actually ticked this one off twice! A couple months ago we went with some friends to see a performance of Holst’s Planets Suite at De Montfort Hall in Leicester. It wasn’t quite at the same level (the performers were amateurs, though very skilled amateurs) but we still thoroughly enjoyed it. In the first half of the concert, they also played some pieces from popular sci-fi – Star Wars, Star Trek, Close Encounters and so on. So that was fun.

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