Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A trumpet for Saint-Saens

Just back from the opening concert of Steven Isserlis's Saint-Saens Festival at the Wigmore. One of those glorious evenings where you come out feeling glad to be alive.

A few highlights were the very, very young clarinettist Julian Bliss playing Saint-Saens's incredibly beautiful clarinet sonata of 1921 (sounds 100 years earlier), Josh Bell pulling out the pyrotechnics in the Rondo Capriccioso and, of course, Carnival of the Animals, complete with Ogden Nash verses suitably doctored for the occasion:

"When a clarinettist leaves the stage
It's not because he's under age!
He's lurking round behind that wall
About to do his cuckoo call."

And Steven's 'Swan' could have made Pavlova cry.

It feels very nice to have had some small part in spreading the word about this festival (see link to my piece in the Indy the other day) as it's something I really believe in. It's going to be marvellous - concerts include Steven and Pascal Devoyon playing the cello sonatas, concertos at the Barbican tomorrow and a programme of songs devised by Graham Johnson - next Tuesday, 27th April, still a few tickets available! The festival goes on until mid-May and finishes with a grand jamboree on 18 May to raise funds to start a Saint-Saens Society. Full details at the Wigmore Hall website.

But dare I make one tiny complaint? I didn't see any musicians in the audience. Yes, there were a handful of children and some 'young people', no doubt dragged in for the nice 'animals' piece. Otherwise, this was the Wigmore Hall Friends Incorporated (mostly over-65s from Highgate), plus a few music business types (the ones who look straight through you until you force them to acknowledge your existence) and, of course, sponsors. Not that I'm objecting to the extraordinary fact that a Saint-Saens Festival could suddenly become THE Place To Be Seen. But it's a conundrum for the Wigmore Hall, which seats about 550 and doesn't have room for everyone who'd want to go. The hall can't expand because that would wreck everything - the intimacy, the atmosphere, the acoustic. Isn't there any way to get more 'ordinary' music lovers into a concert like this?

Never mind. Three cheers for Camille Twinkletoes! I shall tell my mobile phone company that I'm only going to accept the free upgrade if I can have a handset that plays the 'Carnival of the Animals' finale. And you know someone's made a difference to the publicity when, on the way to such a concert, you hear a busker at Waterloo playing 'The Swan'!