Marcel and Friends

Lunchtime Concert Series
Philharmonic Hall, Hope Street
21st February 2013

Reviewed by Mike Naidoo

Although I have been a jazz fan (modern not trad.) since I was seventeen, I do like other styles of music. In another age quite different from this vulgar, philistine one we now live in, there was a tentative connection between industry and culture. Some workplaces provided cheap tickets to classical concerts at the Phil. These Industrial Concerts took place monthly and I decided to try them out. The format was usually a short piece followed by a longer one; say an overture and then a symphony. Over time I became more comfortable with the music and began to enjoy it.

In recent years the Phil has held a series of monthly Lunchtime Concerts. The programme is chamber music; trios, quartets and quintets with various combinations of wind and string instruments. Sometimes just a piano and violin. The repertoire is varied and I have heard of most of the composers.

This month’s concert, called Marcel and Friends, was a little different. It consisted of three pieces. The first a quintet; the second trio; the third a tentet. The first by Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953) quintet Op.39, has an unusual combination of instruments; oboe, violin, viola and double bass. Prokofiev was commissioned to write a ballet in Paris in 1924 and these were the only musicians available to him.

Marcel, the double bassist and leader, introduced the pieces and said that the first was challenging for the musicians and demanding for the audience, as the composer had set out to ignore the conventional classic structure. As I am a big fan of jazzmen Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, who played double bass and bass clarinet respectively, I had no problem with what may be considered a radical piece. I think that modern jazz and classical music have more in common than is generally thought.

The second piece by Mauricio Kagel (1931 -2008), an Argentinean composer I had never heard of, was also said by Marcel to be difficult. He did say why but I never grasped his meaning. Something to do with parallel structures. The blind jazzman Roland Kirk could play two separate tunes on two reed instruments simultaneously, but I doubt that Kagel was influenced by him. The piece called Aus dem Nachlass (From the estate) is billed as a collection of 16 short pieces composed between 1981 and 1986. This trio of violin cello and double bass played stridently but there was some recognisable harmony.

The third piece was by Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976). This year is the centenary of his birth and they are still debating whether or not he died of syphilis! Sinfonietta, Op.1 for wind quintet and string quintet was written when he was only 18 and dedicated to his teacher the composer Frank Bridge and has two violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, 5 men and 5 women. Marcel said this piece was more conventionally composed than the other two. It was a lively piece, but not very long considering ten musicians were needed.

That this was a “challenging and demanding” concert was reflected in the attendance. The auditorium was less than half full. You can be sure that next month’s concert – Mozart for Flute and Strings will be close to a sell-out.

Not all the concerts are introduced by one of the musicians, but I prefer it when they are as it adds colour and background to the proceedings. When I first started to listen to classical concerts I had a tendency to fall asleep. Now when I close my eyes I’m usually trying to concentrate on the music.

These concerts are held monthly on a Thursday at 1,05pm and usually last about an hour, and at £6 per ticket they are terrific value.

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Comment left by Alicia Rose on 8th March, 2013 at 22:25
very well delivered review, has made me interested in going along to one of these monthly lunchtime concerts ... if you can forward a link to more details that would be great ...