Lennox Berkeley:Music for the Piano – St Paul’s Church, Bristol

Sunday 24th June, 2018

There were so many unknowns for me going into this; I’d never heard of the Clifton International Festival of Music, nor been to the venue, didn’t have a clue about the composer or pianist. I booked the ticket anyway because I like discovering new things. It was less than a tenner and I had some gift vouchers waiting to be used so I thought why not?

St Paul’s Church is beautiful, late 19C I would guess from the Art Nouveau style altar art, mosaics and stained glass. It felt welcoming and as I was early I thought I may as well sit at the front. Not that it was a big church, or full. It was a fairly small crowd and I felt out of place in the sense that all the chatter was sounding very knowledgeable about classical music. As I’ve said before, that has not been my world. Neither at home or school. Since I started #40gigs last year I’ve been to more classical concerts than you can shake a stick at, and I’ve developed something of a liking for baroque chamber music. However, I still have no idea what I’m listening to most of the time, the etiquette of when to clap (and most importantly when not to), the terminology or even the names of the composers, or instruments. Like hip hop, I lack the language and terminology to describe what I am hearing. The programme notes for tonight’s concert mention tonality a lot. I do not know what this means. Ditto what a mazurka is.

I know from my love of art that knowledge isn’t always essential, but it can enhance. You can know what you like by ear or eye, yes, but to engage the head as well you do need some framework of understanding. As I lack that I can only ever go by my emotional reaction to the music. Which as we all know from previous entries can be quite strong at times! It wasn’t this evening, which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it, or that it was safe, just that it didn’t reach into my heart and gut and move them.

Douglas Stevens is clearly very passionate about Lennox Berkeley’s music. He has written a PhD thesis about it for a start, and recorded the entirety of his works (some of which have not been recorded before) and was prepared, despite being shy and nervous, to play this recital for us this evening. His love of the music did come through, especially towards the end when he was more animated in his playing style.

It certainly wasn’t gentle, wafty, background classical as there were shifts and jumps that were amusing. It wasn’t dramatic or emotional either though. So I’m left feeling a bit bemused if I’m honest. It was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday evening and I do feel quite relaxed. Nothing more though. Not stirred, not inspired, not astonished. I guess I am so spoiled, musically, in being those things more regularly, that a perfectly pleasant evenings entertainment leaves me feeling cheated!

I am still glad I went, things have to be tried to know if they suit, and learning what does and doesn’t is an ongoing process. I’ll keep trying new things and experiences.