Summer Serenade with Bristol Ensemble – St George’s, Bristol

Friday 7th August, 2020

Live music has, of course, been the thing I have missed the most during the ongoing Covid crisis. Five long months without hearing a note of live music played has felt like an eternity and also not very long at all, all at once. Time has taken on new meaning since we went into lockdown, hasn’t it?

It had been five months, to the day, since I was at BBC 6 Music’s Festival in London. There was a part of me then that sort of knew life was going to change soon after. There have been times when I’ve wondered if I would ever get to a gig or concert again.

I had deliberately kept my emotions and expectations in check, not daring to dream, but knowing that if I was to find myself in St George’s lovely garden listening to Bristol Ensemble play, that I was likely to cry. I wasn’t the only one. Suzanne, St George’s CEO welled up introducing Bristol Ensemble, the leader of which also welled up when introducing the music. Me? Well, as soon as the bow hit the violin for the first note leaks sprang from both my eyes. Less than two seconds and I was already crying, even for me, that is a new record. It was as if five months of emotional repression escaped at once. The release valve had been undone and out all the emotions came.

That it was Mozart, of course, helped. How can you not have an emotional reaction to one of the greatest composers in history? Bristol Ensemble had very cleverly designed a programme that reflected both their, and our feelings about being without live music for so long and how wonderful it was to be sharing it again.

The next piece was perfect. I’ve not heard the Lark Ascending performed live before and I doubt it will ever feel as emotional as it did to hear it played so beautifully by Emil, every high note of the violin solo was sublime and had me weeping at an ever increasing rate. It was the most glorious sound I’ve heard in such a long time. I cannot tell you why I react quite so strongly to strings, but I do, they just make my heart and soul soar. It was wonderful.

Fate was tempted with the choice of Petricor. The weather Gods heard and decided to join in with some light rain, which added surreal humour to the afternoon. I stood, barefoot in the wet grass, brolly in hand, swaying gently to the music, enjoying every second of being able to feel with all my senses; the smell of the rain, grass tickling my toes, music filling my ears. Glorious.

We would have no problems hearing Harriet Riley above the traffic, building work or seagulls as her solo percussion piece was loud enough to cut through all of it. I enjoyed her energy and verve, which took us into a different emotional space.

Bristol Ensemble closed with a piece that took us to a summer in Buenos Aries and the change of pace and mood was welcomed. It was an excellent programme, put together will real thought and care by musicians who clearly missed their audience as much as we have missed them.

Music is communal experience, a universal experience. Throughout human history, across all cultures, humans have sung and made music. We have an inbuilt need for it and to share it. Live music means everything to me, not just because of how it makes me feel, but because I feel those things in the company of others. It is not a solo experience, even though I am often times alone. Music, live music, connects us. It takes the musicians, the composers, the staff and volunteers who run venues, it takes every member of the audience to make it happen. I spend so much of my life alone and lonely. Sharing music live is one of the few times I get to connect. That is why it has been so very hard to be without – there simply is no substitute.

For ninety gorgeous minutes on a Friday afternoon in St George’s garden, I got to feel it all again. None of us know, in this uncertain world we now find ourselves in, when/if/ever we will get to do the things that matter to us again. In the last five months I had lost a part of myself that I feared I wouldn’t get back. Being able to see and hear live music performed again gave me a sliver of my old self back to me. That is the most precious and wonderful gift. Thank you St George’s, thank you Bristol Ensemble, thank you Harriet Riley, and thank you to the other 49 souls who were there listening too. The toddler who made me laugh, piling grass on his Mum’s head and dancing to the music, the little girl who’s sense of exploration needed to be sated and everyone else who shared it. The sound of applause was like a firework of joy.

I hope I get to experience live music again soon. My soul needs it.