Havergal Brian's 'Gothic Symphony'

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by MoominDave, Jul 18, 2011.

  1. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    So did anyone else catch the ultra-rare Proms performance of this at the RAH last night? [The last full UK performance was in 1980, and it's only ever been performed on half a dozen occasions since it was written in 1927]

    I was with a group of friends stood in the centre of the arena, which I think must have been acoustically one of the plumbest spots in the house to appreciate the spatial effects at play - the gigantic orchestra in front with the multiple enormous choirs laid out above and beyond, and also around to the sides; plus the 4 vocal soloists, 8 trumpeters in the gallery and the 4 brass and timpani choirs arranged pointing sideways across the auditorium at each other in banks. Certainly, when the brass choirs all got going at once along with the onstage orchestra, the effect where we were was cataclysmic...

    It's just an astonishing piece of music... Most of 2 hours long, a thousand performers (including 24 trumpets, 14 trombones and 10 tubas), covering a massive range of musical scenarios, often interwoven with Havergal Brian's madly dense counterpoint, but making great play of the biggest contrasts too, in order to buttress the structures. It's still available on iPlayer if you missed it, though I doubt that a recording can recapture the occasion in all of its glory.

    We were wondering about the allocation of arena places - it seemed decidedly less packed than we were expecting - and this was despite about a third of the arena being taken over by the extended stage and a queue outside that looked fit to burst the arena at least twice over. Because we went to the afternoon prom too (a nice organ recital with a premiere of a Judith Bingham piece), we were shifted into a queue that was given first access to the arena, but we were near the back of that and it didn't feel as if many of the regular queue at all had got in after us. We were speculating as to whether they had simply closed the doors at or near the appointed concert start time regardless of the fullness of the arena and remaining queue (as they had been very late opening them and the concert got underway more or less on time)? If that was so, then a lot of people would have been left outside after queueing for hours. Anyone have any ideas on that? Or did we just overestimate the size of the queue? After all, it did pour down heavily with rain a couple of times during the afternoon, which must have put some off.
  2. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Having seen that they were not planning to let in non-season ticketholders until 20 minutes before the start, I managed to secure a ticket rather than risk queueing and not managing to get in. I was surprised to see how much space there was left in the Arena, and there was stacks of room in the gallery.

    It was a tremendous evening - and it was rather nice to be sat down for the two hours! What struck me was the subtlety of the writing, and the way he used the tonal palette at his disposal - part of the reason for the size of the orchestra was to produce full families of instruments. Brass playing was first class, especially Philippe Schartz on trumpet and the principal horn. Were you in the hall early enough to hear Darren Smith warming up on contrabass trombone? No solo stuff in the piece itself but lovely sounds in the warm-up!
  3. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I did hear him blarting away beforehand! He is a cracking player (as were all of the brass).

    Was ever so slightly disappointed to see that the other bass trombonist wasn't doubling contra, but played it all on the bass (sounded great, though). How often does one have the opportunity to deploy two contrabass trombones at once? Not often... In fact, I think this piece is the only such orchestral example. I'd have paid them money to let me sit there on stage with my contra and blart occasionally on the doubled bits!

    I know what you mean about standing vs sitting. My legs and feet were aching well before the end... The time didn't drag though.
  4. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Maybe with all the other expense they couldn't afford the doubling fee ;)
  5. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    Can't believe it wasn't televised, given the rarity of performances. OK, I accept that for this particular piece watching it on a box would be a very poor substitute for actually being there, but it would have been nice to have some sort of visual take on it rather than just listening on R3, since I wasn't able to make it. They were BBC 'house bands' as well, so I can't imagine what reason they would have had for not showing it.
  6. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Or at least video recording it for posterity. I'm sure the Havergal Brian society would have happily retailed it on their website.
  7. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I did hear someone comment that there wasn't any room for any cameras, but I think that was rather tongue in cheek.

    I agree it was a lost opportunity, but I suspect that the main reason would come down to the costs involved.
  8. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    We might also regret the loss to brass bands of the man on the podium - Martyn Brabbins. He did quite a lot of work with bands, once upon a time.
  9. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Or we could look on the movement of one sympathetic to us into a prominent musical position as a good thing?

    I don't know if he ever takes on any band work these days, but I've been conducted by him with the (amateur but good) Salomon orchestra in recentish history (for a Berlioz Requiem in Tewkesbury Abbey - he evidently still enjoys a good parp...)