There’s no concert hall in Colchester, but we convert unusual charismatic buildings to form temporary performances spaces. We’ve performed in a 1904 horseshoe theatre on the high street currently housing a nightclub, an atmospheric church no longer used for religious services, the art galleries, a beautifully restored 16th century half-timbered merchant’s townhouse converted into a restaurant.
Here’s what local poet Martin Newell wrote about Philip Higham’s recital in Dedham Assembly Rooms, in his ‘The joy of Essex’ series.
I discovered that a cellist named Philip Higham was to play a solo concert at the Assembly Rooms there. This was a part of the estimable Roman River Festival. Higham was billed to play three solo cello suites – two by Bach and one by Britten – two slices of classic German schwarzbrot filled with some rather indifferent post-war spam.
I had never been inside the Dedham Assembly Rooms before. The auditorium was smaller than its counterpart in Bath and yet hardly less impressive. Accessible by a flight of stairs was a narrow gallery looking down upon the performance area, which, prior to the concert, the organisers allowed audience members to explore. There is something deep within me which has always taken a prurient interest in the Georgian Regency period. To sit, therefore, in this sparsely elegant, infrequently-used room listening to a young virtuoso cellist playing perfect Bach was a glorious treat for me.
I had no idea that one unamplified cello could muster the power to drench such a large room in its own woody richness. It was almost as if you could hear the instrument breathing, in between the opulent clusters of notes emanating from it. Every so often, I gazed up at the high Assembly Room windows and noticed the blustery wind ruffling the leaves of a tree, outside. The autumn sun, meanwhile, kept subtly changing the light within the packed room whenever it emerged from the clouds. This was the stuff of time travel. If the concert-goers present had been dressed in the appropriate period attire, along with the room’s acoustics and its natural light, it probably wouldn’t have been that much different from a similar event 200 years ago. You’d have needed to waft in the aromas of pipe smoke, lavender, and a more earthy human miasma.