Once again I find myself verily impressed by the quality and diversity of these extremely talented musicians. If you think Classical musicians are all stuffy and aloof, then think again!! Tonight was Fright Night, and, albeit a little tongue-in-cheek and self-effacing, the evening was extremely entertaining with a very mixed-bag of music on offer. Everything from a Wagner overture to Michael Jackson's Thriller!!
The Halle is one of the world's leading orchestras and we are indeed extremely privileged in Manchester for them to call this city their home. And it is when they play at home (to use football parlance) that we really do understand what it is that gives them this reputation. They are first class musicians to a man!
This was the second evening in The Halle's POPS programme, and, like the first, aims at attracting a wider audience than those normally associated with classical music concerts. However, unlike the first in this year's series, the audience base tonight was distinctly middle-aged and upwards, with only a very small handful of youngsters. This was a shame as you will see...
It's All Hallows' Eve and as I walked up to The Bridgewater Hall last night there was a silhouette on the ground of a witch flying past, and a rather friendly looking ghost on the wall welcoming us inside! Once inside, the FOH staff were all wearing witches costumes, and sadly I didn't get the Dress-code office memo, since quite a large proportion of the audience too had come along in ghoulish and ghastly costumes.
After taking my seat, the orchestra walked on stage, and they too are all wearing Hallowe'en fancy dress. I was expecting the usual evening wear, but dressing down and dressing up were certainly the order of the evening. It was really quite amusing in itself to see a very believable mummy playing a cello, whilst Jack Sparrow on the other side of the orchestra fiddled with bravura!
The evening was once again conducted by the dynamic Stephen Bell. He obviously loves his job and the music he conducts; this shines through with every stroke of his baton. This time however, he was helped in his compering by Count Spooktacular - or to give him his day-name, Alasdair Malloy, the evening's presenter. I did think though at the start, when Mr. Malloy came on to the stage, his pantomime-like banter and audience-participatory routine was a little ill-judged; but I was soon proved wrong and the audience quickly warmed to him and his style and before you could say 'ghost' had us all eating out of the palm of his hand; proving that there is no such thing as an adult, just grown-up children! Even the orchestra proved very much game for a laugh with some well-judged party tricks!
Furthermore, he showed us that he was also a very capable percussionist too. In the first half he played the marimba in his own arrangement of De Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, but really came into his own when, in the second act he not only turned into a small comedy skeleton playing the xylophone - brilliantly executed and lots of fun! - but he also played a lovely piece of music specially written for him called The Phantom Fairground on an instrument called a glass harmonica (or a hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica if you prefer!); basically a series of wine glasses filled with varying degrees of water to equal notes when the fingers rub against the rim of the glass. What a pity there weren't more youngsters in the audience, they would have loved these items!
Looking through the programme at the start of the evening, I remember thinking that the theme from Ghostbusters would have made an ideal item to include in this concert, and then pushed it from my mind as I was taken away with the brilliance of the music that was on offer. So I nearly fell off my seat when they played this music for their encore!! I think I must have been blessed with a second-sense last night!!
I would like to proffer a couple of suggestions if I may be so bold. Despite, or even in spite of the orchestra's splendid effort at dressing-up and getting into the spirit (pun intended!), I think perhaps a more uniform approach might have worked better. Watching a percussionist with a large orange pumpkin hat and a violinist wearing what I think was a pig-with-wings onesie etc is not exactly in keeping with The Halle's superlative image. I tend to think perhaps that either all should wear the same costume, or have the females as witches and the males as skeletons for example... but to make the whole thing just a little more tailored and unified would have, for me at least, made it a little more classy. This leads me to my second point. Considering the trouble taken to make the atmosphere suitably Hallowe'en-like, the cherry on top of the icing would have been to have decorated the stage (and perhaps the auditorium) a little too. A few pumpkins on the front of the stage and a few cobwebs hanging from the lights would have sufficed and would have provided a more "spooktacular" setting!
That aside though, it was a well chosen programme and very professionally put together with a little mischief thrown in for good measure. My personal favourite last night being Malcolm Arnold's concert overture Tam O'Shanter. Up until this point I had only ever heard recordings of it, never having seen it played live; add this to the lovely insights to the music from our resident MC, and it really brought the piece of music alive for me.
Once again, your standing ovation was well-deserved last night. Congratulations and thanks to you all!
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 31st October 2015