The Paraorchestra & Friends – Bristol New Music, Colston Hall

Saturday 21st April, 2018

There were so many reasons to want to see this performance. Charles Hazelwood, who would be conducting, among them. His fantastic BBC documentaries about music are part of the reason I now go to see classical music. The Paracorchestra another reason to show up. In the same way the Paraolympics give platform for disabled athletes to compete, Paraochestra gives musicians a platform to play. Representation matters. To be able to show my son examples of people with differences being highly successful and brilliant at what they do is so important.

I wasn’t bought up in a household that played or heard classical music, I had no tradition or way in. It can seem a closed and scary world. Opening music up, making it affordable, showing that anyone can make music, this matters. Otherwise classical music and live music remain the preserve of the privileged and they absolutely shouldn’t. As I’ve been discovering classical music can be soothing, beautiful, emotional, stirring, moving, uplifting, frightening, twee or experimental depending on which orchestra and composer you are seeing. I am deeply grateful to Colston Hall for making today’s event free, it meant I could risk bringing a highly sensitive boy along knowing we would be able to leave without losing anything. Giving him freedom to move around also helped! It was beautiful to see children weaving in and out of the musicians, and the sight of a newborn baby being held up to hear a violinist was gorgeous.

The orchestra was deconstructed, spread out across all 4 levels of Colston Hall’s foyer, which for those who don’t know it is very high indeed. Each member of the orchestra, dressed in white, like a shining angel, was placed on a small platform and we were encouraged to move around them, and the space, during the performance. It was a very unusual and engaging way to experience a concert.

They were to play Steve Reich’s Four Sections, which I know nothing about, so I can only say how much I enjoyed hearing it today in this strange and brilliant manner.

We started at the top, among the brass. What a glorious sound that was! My boy whispered as much as we moved downstairs to the next level to find the strings and wind – all mixed together. To be able to stand between a violin and a clarinet was glorious. A position no ordinary punter would be lucky enough to be in. I closed my eyes and listened, really listened. My left ear full of one, my right the other, my brain adding them together with all the other instruments. It was joy. I stood so close to a flautist I thought I would knock her over. What a beautiful and delicate sound. And a bassoon, I have never heard a bassoon up close to know what it sounds like before. It is a sound I will not forget, and I will now be better able to identify and understand when I next hear a full orchestra.

On the ground floor, we weaved in and out of the pianist, drums and glockenspiel.  To see the inside of the piano as it was played, showing my boy how it worked, was glorious. Standing between 2 glocks, not daring to breathe in case that nudged me too close and I knocked an arm, even more so. It was immerse and inclusive and brilliant.

The way the sound changed, depending on where you were, was very special. When near the bottom you had to concentrate to find the violins with your ears, rather than eyes and vice versa when at the top for the drums and piano. I wonder what the music would sound like in a more traditional set up. Perhaps one day I’ll find out, but if I don’t it was still a brilliant piece of music.

I asked a couple of the musicians afterwards if having people so close was a distraction, both said no as they were concentrating so hard that it made little difference, other than worrying that their music stands would be knocked over! They seemed to have really enjoyed this different way of playing as much as we had.

Thank you Colston Hall for showcasing the talents of a brilliant orchestra in such a unique way. Thank you Paraorchestra and Charles Hazelwood for playing and conducting. I loved it. My boy enjoyed it. He has never heard an orchestra before, he has never seen live music before, what a way to introduce him!