Monday, 3 October 2011

Last night's gig

Guildford, the nearest big town to where I live, has a new civic hall.  The old civic hall was closed ages ago now and eventually knocked down and rebuilt.  I spent a lot of time in my youth in the old civic hall.  It was on the gig circuit so in the 70s and 80s everyone came to play there.  I saw (in no particular order) Dr Feelgood, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Lene Lovich, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cramps, The Police, Bauhaus, Toyah, The Jam, The Stranglers, The Vapors - I'm sure there are others but I can't remember.  The Civic was a 40 minute bus ride from where I lived then, and it meant I got to see all these great bands without having the bother and expense of getting on a train up to London and then trying to get home again when the last bus had already left.

 The old Civic Hall

But the building was getting on a bit and so needed to be replaced.  This was never going to be a quick and easy thing, not when the Good Burghers of Guildford are involved.  There would be wranglings over funding and size and parking, and so it came to pass. I think it's been at least 10 years since it was last open.

The new Guildford Civic main entrance, seen from London Road

Side exits, York Road side


The new Civic Hall finally opened last week.  I have to say, it is much nicer than the old one, but then that wouldn't be difficult.  They have, though, given it the god-awful name of 'GLive', which sounds like a boyband to me.  What's wrong with 'Guildford Civic Hall'? It's succinct and accurate, and anyone who's from around these parts knows exactly what you're talking about.  But 'GLive'?  Oh well.

So now they have to fill it with events that people actually want to go to.  The initial programme was released and I have to say that my heart sank a little when it appeared to be full of the same sort of things that every suburban hall has on these days - some 'psychic', 60s bands touring to up their pensions, military bands, yet another touring production of Blood Brothers, an evening with a couple of football pundits, bloody Jim bloody Davidson - stuff that you can see in Woking or Aldershot, should you so wish.  I'm sure this kind of stuff floats some folks' boats, but not mine.  They are, however, putting on some decent stand up comedians (and I'm not including bloody Jim bloody Davidson in that, obv.) - Stephen Merchant, Jimmy Carr, Mickey Flanagan, Ed Byrne - so that's good, but where were the rock/pop/alternative bands?  It seems I wasn't the only person with these questions and there was a bit of a correspondence about it in the letters pages of the local rag.  To be fair, the manager did reply and say that as the Civic had been off the circuit for so many years now, it was going to be a while before the rest of the world realised it was open for business again and it started being included as a tour venue.  Which I suppose is fair enough really.  At least they've now got the Kaiser Chiefs coming next year, which should be loud and energetic (God, I'm starting to sound like an "old person").

But what I have been thrilled about is the classical music offerings.  I've been wanting to go and see some big professional orchestras play for quite a while now, but for us we'd have to go up to That London.  And sometimes that just seems like a lot of faff, not to mention cost.  The South Bank is the nearest, most direct, decent classical venue for us but we'd still have to add at least 2 hours travelling time (hour there, hour back) plus the cost of the train tickets (best part of about £30) to the cost of the performance tickets, plus drinks and food when you get there and you're looking at little change back from a hundred quid.  I may not be on my uppers but even that's pricey to me.  The new Civic (I refuse to call it GLive - sorry) is 15 mins drive and tickets start at £19.50.  That's about as full of win as it can get, in my book.

So I've been booking tickets to go to their International Orchestral Concert Season, starting with last night's performance by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.  Inside the hall is as impressive as the outside:

Inside the new Guildford Civic Hall

We were sat right at the very back - where the cheapest seats are.  I figured that, as it was an orchestra rather than a play or a comedian, it wouldn't be essential to see the faces of the performers close up - it's the sound that's important, so we were in the second to back row.

As you can see, the MPO is a big orchestra.  I tried counting the players and there are at least 80, which is a hell of a lot of kit to organise and ship and insure.  The logistics must be incredible.  They played  I don't know what you call them.  'Pieces by 3 different composers' I suppose is better. 

The first thing they played was Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Suite, which you'll know.  Here, listen to this youtube video, carry on past the two big opening discordant bits, and you'll get to something you recognise:

There, see, you know it, didn't you?  I personally prefer the next bit after that, with the light, shimmering strings, it always makes me well up.  Interestingly, it wasn't until I was looking for a suitable YouTube vid to show you that I discovered that Prokofiev used to be the conductor for the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, so it's fitting they should play his stuff.

Then they played Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major with Nikita Boriso-Glebsky as soloist.  He'd just started playing and after a few minutes I thought to myself "Wow, this sounds a bit like the theme to 'The Right Stuff'".  And it was!  'The Right Stuff' is one of my all time favourite films of all time, and the bit that always made me cry was when the Mercury Seven emerge from a hanger in their silver space suits, in a row, walking in slow motion, and the impossibly heroic music swells [it's the bit that starts at 6:49 in the video below, if you're interested] and I just crumble.  Every. Time.  And here was this huge orchestra playing it for me.  Right now.  And I hadn't known.  Blimey.

Plus the soloist was incredible.  Obviously, as it was a big solo piece, it's unbelievable showy-offy, but that's what being a soloist is all about.  And - feck me - he was good.  See for yourselves, I found a YouTube clip of him playing the exact same piece in a competition in 2007 (but with a smaller orchestra):

How bloody fab was that?  And how on earth do these people remember it all without the music?  Amazing.

They finished off with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.  Again, you'll know it.  I managed to find another YouTube video but this time it's of the actual orchestra we saw last night, with the actual conductor, playing the actual piece they played (the conductor is Yuri Botnari, hence the name of the website).  This is just the intro, but you'll know it:

The final 'picture' - The Great Gates of Kiev - ends with the boys on percussion banging hell out of tubular bells, a gong, timpani, cymbals and lord knows what else.  Check it out from about 4:30 on this vid:

The most astonishingly heart-soaring and uplifting piece of music.  TLH and I enjoyed it tremendously, which is, sadly, more than can be said for the rest of the population of Guildford, who seemingly preferred to spend the night in front of the telly watching X Factor or some other such bollocks instead of hearing properly talented performers.  Mindless fuckwits.

This fantastic orchestra and performers were playing their hearts out to about 250 people.  The hall will seat 1700.  It was mostly empty.  A crying shame, literally.  But we 250 people gave them countless standing ovations and clapped until our hands were swollen.  We got 3 encores for our troubles.  It was brilliant.

I hope this lack of attendance can be put down to the fact that it was only the second classical gig in the new Hall and it just hasn't dawned on people yet that they now have this fantastic opportunity to hear some of the most extraordinary music and performers, right on their doorstep.   TLH and I enjoyed it so much that we decided to book tickets for the rest of the season, so in a couple of weeks we're seeing the fabulous Nicola Benedetti and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra playing, amongst others, Dvorak's New World Symphony (which  has particular resonance with me, being the first classical LP that my parents bought me); in February next year there's the Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra doing Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite and other stuff; March has Julian Lloyd Webber doing Elgar, Haydn, Barber and Mozart; April has the English Chamber Orchestra doing Vivaldi's Four Seasons and some Bach and Elgar and, finally, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra doing Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis & The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, and a couple of Beethovens.  I can't wait.

Plus, to top off a fantastic evening, TLH and I stopped off for a bag of chips on the way home!  Result!


OmegaMom said...

How splendid! To have all that, at such a reasonable price, so close to home!

Now you and TLH need to tell all your friends and acquaintances about this. What a shame to have only 250 people! But as word of mouth gets out, the number of people will increase.

(I have Pictures at an Exhibition pretty much memorized.)

SUEB0B said...

GLive sounds like some kind of lubricant product. Just sayin'.

I ushered at a 1650-seat hall in a fairly small town and I saw some fabulous shows. Things were always surprising me. A marionette act that made me cry, it was so beautiful. Marionettes! Who knew?

I know what you mean about the small audience. It was always so sad to hear talented acts perform and then the sound of a small audience clapping...even with 300-400 people in the house, you could almost hear individual people clapping. It killed me.