24.9.14

PENZANCE YOUTH STRING ORCHESTRA


In last Sunday's Observer the eloquent but often impenetrable Paul Morley confessed his love for classical music which he finds more stimulating than what passes for rock and pop these days. Well, he has a point and that point was brought home to me the same evening by the Penzance Youth String Orchestra at the Mariners Gallery in St Ives.
        The Mariners Gallery is a converted church, all vaulted ceilings with an impressive semi-circular altar space before which the PYSO gathered to entertain a modest crowd of about 100 or so; 10 violins, four violas, two cellos and two basses, mostly teenage girls, all dressed in black and red, and led by the schoolmasterish Tim Boulton who plays and conducts at the same time.
        The acoustics were wonderful, the audience quiet and attentive, the musicians diligent and well-rehearsed. Their programme opened with Mozart's Eine Kleine Nichtmusik followed by JS Bach's Air (the Hamlet cigar ad), which led me to the conclusion that the PYSO wanted to get classical music's greatest hits out of the way first - unlike rocks stars who leave them to the end - so as to prepare us for something a bit more challenging. This took the form of Snow Patrol by Goreck, not a bit like 'Chasing Cars', more a slow, thoughtful piece that saw the musicians break ranks and position themselves amongst the audience, thus creating the sort of quadrophonic effect that Pete believed might be possible when The Who performed Quadrophenia but wasn't.
        For someone like me who is used to hearing music driven along by pounding drums and an electric bass, this all seemed unusually soothing, impressively melodic and really quite beautiful, all the more so when one of the girls stepped forward to sing, filling this great church space with her haunting voice yet barely moving her lips. It was like watching a ventriloquist. By comparison, rock and pop singers yell and scream; this tiny girl sang from her abdomen, as you are supposed to do.
        After the interval we were taken on a musical journey, and that included a visit to the USA for a lively bluegrass number, the nearest thing to popular music all evening, and great fun it was. The concert ended with the longest piece they played, by Bartok, during which the orchestra was accompanied by a rather scratchy recording made by the composer himself. At the end the musicians were accorded a standing ovation and, as they had done after all the pieces, the musicians bowed, Beatle-like, many times.
        Back on the streets we wandered around the town. A blues band at the Lifeboat pub seemed to be making a terrible racket compared to what we'd just experienced, so we declined to go in. At the Sloop pub a bit further along the quay a guitar duo treated us to a bit of Bee Gees, Stones and Bowie; at the Castle a chap with long blonde hair was playing 'Vincent Black Lightning 1952' without Richard Thompson's twiddly bits; and at the Union a blues guitarist called John Walsh restored my faith in the music I love with some lovely work on his acoustic and slide guitars.

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