I'm used to being surrounded by musicians, but it usually involves lots of floppy-haired guitarists and sticky-floored venues (none of which smell so good, pre or post smoking ban). So, Friday night was something out of the ordinary. A friend invited me to go and watch the Manchester Camerata performing at Manchester Town Hall. I haven't been to see any classical music in a long time so it was the perfect opportunity to revisit the past in the splendour of the banqueting hall.
I didn't know what to expect. The programme included pieces by Arvo Pärt, Benjamin Britten and Mozart. But it was the second piece, Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony that had the greatest impression on me - although the first piece, by Pärt, Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten was a short treat too, full of a sense of downward sweeping nervousness.
The first movement of Britten's Simple Symphony is uplifting and appropriately called Boisterous Bourree. The Camerata's conductor, Gabor Takács-Nagy, was noticeably elated: smiling, jovial and particularly boisterous too.
By the second movement Takács-Nagy is walking the small orchestra through the dueling pizzicato of a wonderful motif: it sweeps its way from violins to bass section, and rings out confidently around the room. Britten's childhood symphony (the majority of the material written when Britten was between ten and thirteen years of age) is soaring and the wood from the Camerata bows can be heard, tapping like noted percussion, as the movement ends with a particularly physical section, in which all players demonstrate their prowess. I close my eyes and stop thinking; just listening to the deep acoustics of the hall.
During the third movement, I come back to Takács-Nagy, who is the personification of the music being played. His movements seem as specific as sign language, and indeed they are, because the orchestra know exactly what he is saying. This symphony is so wonderful; dark and shade balanced by tongue-in-cheek fun. Suddenly the double basses are sparse and I miss them - the room is suited to the rumbling low-end. They play another note and then they disappear again. Each time they disappear the wait is powerful: it is all about the suspense of the passion and the Camerata execute the dynamics perfectly.
Then the final movement, the Frolicsome Finale, puts the interaction between conductor and orchestra to the test once more. The movement starts with shards of music, followed by those familiar silences. The playfulness is magical, Takács-Nagy seems to throw the shards of music at the orchestra; he gives them the music and takes it away again, a beautiful game of cat and mouse.