Florilegium – St George’s, Bristol

Wednesday 21st March

I purchased this ticket as part of Bristol Culture Flash Sale a while back. Twice a year a number of Bristol’s cultural flagships take part in a 24 hour flash sale, with tickets discounted by 20%. It made this ticket just £11.25 which is roughly the equivalent of a cinema ticket or a couple of rounds in the pub. Therefore a safe bet for an evening of entertainment, not too much of a risk on something you aren’t sure about. It makes culture more accessible for those, like me, who don’t earn that much. For those of us who didn’t go to fancy schools or red brick Universities and for whom baroque chamber music is not something we are au fait with.

It is entirely fair to say that without the flash sale I wouldn’t have been sat in the gallery of St George’s this evening. It is also fair to say that my knowledge of baroque is entirely derived from watching BBC4 documentaries about the history of music. My experience of live classical music is pretty limited.

St George’s has the best acoustics in the City. Former churches tend to, but there is something very warm and welcoming about St George’s (other than the cramped crypt entrance) that makes it a pleasure to visit.

I had no real idea what to expect from this concert. I think there was a harpsichord (consults programme, yes it was, pats self on back) and an organ, double bass, violin and cello. These were accompanied by either a flute of human voice, depending on the piece. Florilegium played pieces by Vivaldi and Pergolesi, only one of whom I’ve ever hear of before! I only recognised one piece, the last one before the interval, which I instantly knew I knew from hearing on TV and radio (I do occasionally listen to Radio 3). Otherwise this was all brand new to me. Some of it I liked, some of it felt too nice, too safe, a bit too contained for my tastes. There were perfect spring like strings, befitting the Spring Equinox, and some darker toned moments. I guess, without the knowledge and understanding what you are hearing, it was just a little difficult to follow. Not speaking Italian didn’t help!

There were huge positives though, to know I was hearing music that was over 250 years old, and that it has been played throughout that time, moves me. Its something I love about folk music too, that you can draw a sonic line from hundreds of years ago to now, knowing that generations have heard and enjoyed exactly the same sounds. There is always something magic about the resonance of live strings too, the warmth and tone is not replicable in headphones or speakers. I could also trace the origin of most of the modern music I love back through this music. Piano, guitar and bass replacing the organ, cello and double bass, still with human voice as the emotional driver. Placing music in its historical context and being able to understand its very deep roots is a thing to revel in.

I took a chance on something very different with this, and although the experiment didn’t entirely succeed, I am glad I tried. I will be visiting St George’s again, I will go to hear more live classical music, I may even try more baroque ensembles. Hearing talented musicians play is never a bad thing to do, supporting live music in all its forms, keeping our culture alive is vital.

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