By Celia Crossley
The Roman River Festival is always very, very special, and this year’s festival from 17th September to 4th October was no exception. Where else would audiences, equipped with torches and cushions, listen to 40 concerts of world class music over 18 days, in such a wide range of venues.
It was a privilege to experience at close quarters the musicians’ absolute love, devotion and enthusiasm for their music. Personally I found the performances of Elena Urioste, Tim Hugh, Alexandra Dariescu and the choir formed from local primary schools particularly moving, but every performance was exceptional. And where do these internationally renowned musicians stay? With volunteers of course!
The venues make this festival unique. Concerts were held in some of the area’s most beautiful churches, including Copford with its medieval wall paintings. Others in the decadent former Edwardian variety theatre (now Liquid nightclub), the Moot Hall, Firstsite, Colchester castle, St George’s Victorian meeting hall, Layer Marney Tower and Dave Ross’ living room.
And a note about the volunteers who support the Artistic Director, Orlando Jopling. They are the lifeblood of the Festival. They do everything; running the box office, providing the professional lighting, producing the informative programme, cleaning out and repairing St George’s meeting Hall (skips and even a fork lift truck were involved)…. the list and their enthusiasm was endless.
My favourite moment? When a chaffinch flew through a window and performed an impromptu duet with Elena Urioste, who was playing “The Lark Ascending”. Only at the Roman River Festival.
Final concert review
Eighteen days and over forty concerts later and the festival culminated today in Stoke By Nayland’s glorious church with a magnificent concert. Four conductors (what’s the collective name for a group of conductors? a conduction?), two choirs, one orchestra and over two hours of pure heaven. Oh, and one bird.
Fantastic to see the interior of Stoke by Nayland’s church in daylight – all those carved angels and corbels looking down at us – and an enormous audience of all ages enjoying the variety of music.
An inclusive concert for the people, by the people. The professionals were joined by talented musicians from local schools, a choir formed of children from three primary schools and a second choir made up of people who just wanted to sing and turned up for just one six hour rehearsal.
The first conductor of the concert, Leandro Silvero, led the orchestra in some uplifting spirited pieces from Bizet’s Carmen. This was followed by Grieg’s Norwegian Dances Op. 35; energetic, warm and melodic. The student musicians were inspiring; the only way to identify them was the suspiciously youthful appearance of some members of the orchestra. Plus their rapt faces. I spoke with a young violinist later who had clearly enjoyed the experience and how much he had learnt; he also remarked that the students had to adapt to the professional’s faster pace of the music!
And then the serene romance of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” for violin and orchestra. I could wax lyrical for hours about Elena Urioste’s expressive playing; rich, lush vibralto (I swear I could taste chocolate) and sweet and oh so perfectly quiet high register as her lark soured high above the English countryside. A bird which flew through an open window into the church was equally convinced by Elena’s performance, at times accompanying her, a true compliment indeed! As Leandro pointed out; you don’t get that in the Wagner Concert Hall!
The Festival’s musical collaborations with local schools have been incredibly successful; the lady next to me commented that her daughter came home every day singing her heart out. The fruit of their hard work culminated in them singing at the concert. First a piece of music composed by Anthony Bailey especially for the Festival; “The Birds Ascending”, and then music they composed themselves! These mini musicians gave a professional, focused performance and were a credit to themselves and all who have helped them. This experience has undoubtedly raised the children’s appreciation, understanding and sheer enjoyment of music; afterwards I overheard one young singer ask Anthony; “can we sing it again”? You couldn’t ask more of a project.
After the interval (cue more tea and scrumptious chocolate cake – you won’t get that in the Wagner Concert either) the Festival choir and Festival orchestra performed Parry’s glorious “Blest Pair of Sirens”. The music resonated throughout the church; all the more impressive considering the choir had only one rehearsal in which to learn and master the piece.
And, with Orlando Jopling hanging his coat over a pew end, both literally and metaphorically, as this was the last music of this year’s Festival; so to the final part of the programme as he raised the baton to conduct music from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. The orchestra was joined in the ranks by the wonderful Elena, so presumably the thirteen instruments, as instructed by Copland, swelled to fourteen. Considered by many one of the most inspiring and symbolic works of the 20th century, this performance was breathtaking, utterly moving and, I have to confess, brought tears to my eyes.
A truly perfect ending to this very special Festival.
I can’t wait until 2016!