Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Will you find love at first listen?

A concert at which you ‘speed date’ the musicians afterwards? Well, anything’s worth trying ONCE, says an intrigued Gillian Spickernell

Written by Gillian Spickernell

What am I doing sitting in the candlelit foyer of Queen Elizabeth Hall on a dusky winter’s evening waiting to ‘speed date’ 31 members of a rather extraordinary orchestra? No, I don’t know either, except I’ll try anything once, and The Works did sound like a Good Idea at the time.

The Works involves women and men of all ages going to a classical concert. Beforehand, the music is explained by a knowledgeable musician. Afterwards, you ‘speed date’ the orchestra. It sounds terrifying, but in reality, it’s rather relaxed. I’ve never gone for the stuffy format of so many classical concerts, so The Works sounded intriguing. Indeed, the idea behind the concept isn’t romance, but an attempt to get you acquainted with the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, which has been around for more than 25 years and uses instruments and playing styles to recreate the music as it would have sounded in the original composer’s lifetime

Before I went, I wondered whether I wanted the music to be ‘explained’ to me – there is, after all, something to be said for just giving yourself up to the music and letting it beguile you (or even assault you – Night On The Bare Mountain springs to mind).

But on the night I went, the orchestra was playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23. It wasn’t a piece of music I was familiar with, so I was grateful for some explanation from the pianist and music historian Robert Levin, who fizzed with enthusiasm. By the time he’d finished explaining the origins of the score (something to do with an outstanding pupil of Mozart) I was bursting with curiosity.

The orchestra struck up and I counted 31 musicians centred around Robert’s piano, which was of a design typical of Mozart’s era and sounded more like a harpsichord with no pedals than the piano we’re more familiar with.

There was no specialised conductor either. Robert seemed to do everything – play the piano, explain things, stand up and wave his hands about and, yes, the resulting sound was different to that created by a modern orchestra… softer somehow, more subtle.

Beforehand, Robert had told us that there are three distinct sections to Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto. The first is warm and effusive, the second is a little bleak and the third wraps things up with a comic ending. The orchestra brought them all out beautifully and they received a terrific round of applause from almost everyone. One disgruntled Mozart fan interrupted Robert’s lecture and stormed out in disgust, but even that was good entertainment value. But with the concert over, it was time for the most daunting phase of the evening: ‘speed dating’ the orchestra.

Before you panic, I should point out that this is optional and isn’t speed dating in the romantic sense. It follows the concept of speed dating, in that you meet someone for five minutes, before a bell rings and everyone moves on to the next person, but you’re meeting the musicians rather than potential suitors, and the talk is about music, rather than romance.

I started by meeting a bassoonist who showed me his 30-year-old replica of a 1770 instrument – it had a softer, mellower sound than its modern counterpart. Then a bell rang, I moved to the next table and met an enthusiastic violinist who gave me a fascinating insight into the life of a musician, and the hardships of touring.

If love was in the air, it was merely a mutual love of music, but The Works is well worth exploring. It’s a chance to
hear top-notch classical musicians performing, have a piece of classical music demystified and then, if you want to, get to talk to some of the performers in a relaxed setting.

I didn’t find love at The Works but I did get up close and personal with a Mozart concerto. And there’s always next time: Bach’s coming up on 6 March, and I don’t know anything about him. Yet. Perhaps that will be love at first listen.

For more ABOUT THE WORKS www.oae.co.uk/theworks
Bach’s Suite No 3 and Brandenburg Concerto No 5 is scheduled for Tuesday 6 March at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London SE1. Tickets from £15 (concs £7.50). To book, call 0844-847 9922 or visit

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