Tonight I went to see Alexandra Whittingham at the Star and Shadow. This was significant for a couple of reasons. I haven’t been to a gig at the Star and Shadow for a long time and never in it’s current location; the last one was Wreckless Eric, which was in the old venue near Byker Bridge; that one I remember mostly because the room was unheated in winter, and we all huddled in our seats, wrapped up warm. And the second reason was that I have been to very few classical guitar gigs in my life; this was the third after Julian Bream around 40 years ago and Chrisoph Denoth who played after a conference dinner maybe 10 years ago (ISMB I think!). It’s not that I don’t like classical guitar, it’s just that there are not that many gigs around.
She played guitar nicely, with a varied set, some of it was very beautiful, some of it clever, and some of it more pacey. Very little of which I recognised, but all of which I enjoyed; for the last half, she was joined by violinist (whose name I forget, sorry!). It was very nice to see the guitar played so fluently. As is my previous experience with classical, it does tend to underuse the rhythmic and percussive features of the guitar, but that’s just the nature of the music.
The gig was promoted by “Through the Noise” which bills itself as “the future of classical music”; basically, instead of big formal concerts, they use the smaller venues (clubs, cinemas and so forth) that make up the bulk of the music venues in the UK. The venue was dark lit and a (somewhat overactive) smoke machine and a bar at the back; in short a normal gig. As Alexandra said, it attempts to shed the elitism (and, frankly, pomposity) of classical music; this has to be a good thing; I like all kinds of music, but don’t really like classical concerts: the venues are too big; there are too many obscure rules (clap at some quite points but not others); references to obscure composers who I am supposed to know; and, the insistance on the use of titles in a foreign languages without translation. She managed to get rid of most of these. As well as supporting classical music and musicians, it should help to support the venues which is good for all music.
On a negative side, though, I am not entirely convinced by the Through the Noise plan for the gigs. They are “crowd sourced” which is a fancy way of saying that they cancel the gigs and return the money if they don’t sell enough tickets early; that was okay for me, but you wouldn’t want to plan to travel any distance to a gig under those terms; it might work in London (where they originated), but up north? And second they do two sets in the evening, so she played for just under an hour; I think this was rather pushing it to be honest. I come out to be entertained, and the gig was not cheap; it doesn’t need to go into the middle of the night (and, as I get older, I sometimes get sleepy in really long gigs!); but it needs to be longer than this.
Still, despite these niggles, if it means I change the 15 year gap between classical guitar concerts that I have maintained for the rest of my life, that will not be a bad thing.