First concert for the Dartington Festival Orchestra last night, with this year’s crop of student conductors. It was an all-Beethoven program, with Joanna MacGregor clocking up her third concert in as many days in the Triple Concerto, with (equally frantic) Adrian Brendel (cello) and Chloe Hanslip (violin), and a changeover on the podium for every movement.
Two hours earlier, I’d been sitting on the grass exchanging memories with a couple of DFO legends. It’s 25 years since I last played in the conductors’ orchestra, back in 1989, when Diego Masson was running the course. It was bloody hard work then, as I’m sure it is now. An opera, a choir concert, a couple of orchestral concerts, and deciphering the more or less vague gestures of rookie stickhandlers. Some of them were good. Very very good. Joyously good. Others were very, very bad. Viola player Nicky Hocking (now Smith) reminded me of the nicknames we used to give those poor lambs to the slaughter. Who could forget ‘Brown Jumper’? Or ‘Branston Pickle’? Or ‘the Surrey Fascist’?
To give them their due, it’s a tough gig for the conductors too. I imagine it’s not unlike a student teacher standing in front of a class of thirteen year olds. Except that the class is made up of 55 professional musicians who may or may not have hangovers but certainly have no time for fools. The viola section, led by the legendarily foul-mouthed Peter Gumbley, backed up by the razor tongue of Nicola, were particularly intimidating. Some of the students rose to the occasion. Some we broke.
The 2016 batch mostly scrubbed up well last night. I was particularly impressed by Australian conductor of the first movement of the concerto, who beamed across the orchestra, inciting not just notes, but perhaps even joy. The band also did well, dealing with some — dare I say it — unreasonably brisk tempi in Symphony No. 7. As for the concerto, the soloists soared out from the crowded stage, with Hanslip finding a thrilling clarity to her top register.
Then a late night concert from Lithuanian accordion star, Martynas Levickis. The Accordion is not everyone’s go-to instrument for musical bliss but, in the hands of Levickis, it may yet become one. He’s a natural communicator and an astonishing performer who had me grinning broadly through music by Bach, Rossini and Levickis himself, and gripped by Sofia Gubaidulina’s De Profundis.
The future has buttons and bellows.