Before I start, let me make one thing clear: I love Liverpool, right? I’m as loyal and as committed as any migrant who has settled in the City and grown to love it deeply.
So it’s with some reluctance that I write this post about a place in Manchester: Liverpool’s long standing urban nemesis.
There’s no denying it, though – Manchester is a great city with lots to offer. Not least it’s brilliant centre for musical excellence, the Royal Northern College of Music. I was lucky enough to be invited to a performance of the Classical Guitarists studying at the College, and was blown away by the whole experience.
Firstly: the place itself. Smack bang in the centre of Manchester’s academic ‘quarter’, sandwiched between Manchester Met and The University of Manchester, the recently modernised RNCM has public areas that are light, airy, modern and welcoming. There’s a great bar too, with loads of Real Ale on offer (my third greatest love) and, with students milling around chatting and working, it feels like a place alive with activity.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the young guitarists as I waited for the first of many performers to start. Yes, they’re studying at the top classical music college in the North under two of the greatest living guitar pedagogs – Craig Ogden and Gordon Crosskey – but they are still young musicians.
I very quickly found my worries were unfounded, and my nerves faded with each of the opening notes from Steven Hickey. Steven showed guts by opening the evening with Frank Martin’s Quatre Pieces Breves in a beautifully poised interpretation and assured performance. Although I’ve heard the work recorded this was the first time I’d heard it ‘live’ and, for me, Steven held his own against any other version I’d heard.
He was followed by a really fun piece by Salford Composer Joe Dudell called Freaky Dances, a piece for Vibraphone and Guitar Quartet. Wry smiles all round as the guitarists kept up with Daniel Jones on Vibraphone in a multi layered polyrhythmic music box of minimalism gone funky. This couldn’t have contrasted much more with the next piece – the Bach Violin Sonata in A Minor, played by Matthew Wilkinson.
Out of all the performers I saw, I think this guy impressed me the most, showing his strength and versatility by playing a Bach sonata, then later in the programme two Roland Dyens arrangements. Matthew played the Bach exactly to my taste (Bach on the guitar being a bit like Steak or cups of Tea – everyone likes them a certain way) The Fugue was poised and steady, allowing the phrases to sing out with just enough ebb and flow in his playing. Next, the slow movement, which sang with minor key melody (A minor – the saddest of all the keys on the guitar?) but without lapsing into full on, O.T.T. Melancholy. Then, the Allegro, which just looked plain HARD! After a good seven minutes playing up to this point it must have been so hard to maintain the concentration to keep that sense of pulse going amid the countless runs and demi-hemi-semi-bemi-demi quavers!
There were many more highlights on the evening – including Martin Bickerton and Amy Perry, who have been making a name for themselves on the music scene as The Astrum Duo. Their professional performance experience shone through as they sailed through a confident performance of the wonderful Tango Suite by Argentinean Astor Piazolla.
Here’s a video of them performing the first movement on YouTube!
Steven Hickey returned to play another fearfully difficult piece by a modern composer, this time Whirler of the Dance by Carlos Rivera. Check out this, the third movement, which shows just how technically demanding the piece was!
It was a great programme, performed by many truly talented young musicians, who we will surely be seeing a lot more of in years to come. On balance for me, the more established guitar repertoire was more successful than the newer, fresher works. While the more experimental pieces were definitely entertaining, pieces like 100 Greatest Dance Hits came across as weird for the sake of it. I am incredibly old fashioned for someone of my age though, so it’s probably just a matter of my taste being outdated, but I’m still not 100% sold on post modern music.
There are more guitar concerts in the RNCM’s June programme, which I can’t recommend enough. Firstly, Steven Hickey is competing to win the college’s prestigious Gold Medal, and then later in the month the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet – an outstanding ensemble who are, I think, all graduates of the RNCM.
I hope to see you there….
RNCM Gold Medal Weekend – Steven Hickey – guitar
J S Bach Suite in A minor BWV 995
Lennox Berkeley Sonatina
Duncan Ward New work (world première of an RNCM commission)
Enrique Granados La Maja de Goya
Carlos Rivera Whirler of the Dance
Paulo Bellinati Jongo
The RNCM Historic Instrument Collection will be open 1>2pm
Date & Time – Saturday 12 June 2010 2.00pm
Venue – RNCM Concert Hall
Ticket Price – Free admission, no ticket required
Concessions – None
Aquarelle Guitar Quartet – ‘Dances’ CD Launch Concert
Music to include:
Astor Piazzolla La Muerte del Angel
Miroslav Tadic Balkan dances
Andy Scott 7 Dances and No Looking Back (world premiere)
Michael Baker, Vasilis Bessas, James Jervis, Rory Russell
Following the success of its last CD Spirit of Brazil, Aquarelle Guitar Quartet returns to launch a new CD, Dances.
The programme includes many of the Quartet’s own arrangements as well as the world première of a new commission, Seven Dances and No Looking Back by Andy Scott. ‘With outstanding playing and infectious spirit, this is no mere niche guitar CD, but a luscious and lively general-appeal winner.’ BBC Music Magazine
Promoted by Aquarelle Guitar Quartet in association with RNCM
Date & Time – Wednesday 30 June 2010 7.30pm
Venue – RNCM Concert Hall
Ticket Price – £12
Concessions – Concessions Available
Genre(s) – Classical