Yesterday evening I went to a concert at Wigmore Hall that rates right up there amongst the best I have ever attended.  The last time I raved about a concert it was something entirely different; Leonard Cohen at the O2 Arena performing for three glorious hours to an appreciative audience of 20,000 people. Last night, The English Concert, playing Vivaldi and Pergolesi for 90 minutes to an audience of 550, trumped even Leonard Cohen!

Why am I bowled over by last night’s concert?  I have lots of reasons.

Firstly, the music.  Every time I hear music composed by the likes of Vivaldi, Corelli and Pergolesi it reaches parts of me that no other music quite reaches.  Comparisons may be odious, but not even Schubert’s Quintet or his two song cycles cause my earth to move in quite the same way – and that’s saying something, Schubert being, overall, my favourite composer.  Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is surely the most heartrending music ever written. Pergolesi wrote it when he was dying of tuberculosis at the age of 26.  No wonder it has become ‘the most published, most imitated and most re-arranged work in 18th Century music’ (I’m quoting from the programme notes, of which more later).  It influenced, amongst countless others, Mozart, JS Bach and Verdi.

Secondly, the performers. The English Concert play Baroque music with extraordinary skill and devotion and they look as if they are enjoying themselves whilst doing it.  They glance appreciably at each other and swap fleeting supportive smiles.  It is impossible to imagine strife and aggro behind the scenes and, if it exists, they are to be congratulated for showing no traces.  Last night’s concert was conducted by Bernard Labadie who hung back with admirable modestly while we applauded the orchestra and the singers. And they all scrub up so well, the men in smart tails and the women with long black dresses.  Even their shoes (at eye level in Wigmore) look clean – a small detail lost on many musicians with their focus on higher things.

Thirdly, the singers. Two of them on this occasion, Sonia Prina, contralto, and Roberta Invernizzi, soprano.  Separately they were amazing, together they were absolutely heavenly.  Both are Italian, both with a special interest in Baroque repertoire, they made the ultimate dynamic duo, falling into each other arms at the end of the performance in what I assumed was totally deserved mutual admiration.

Fourthly, the audience. Years ago I went to a lecture where the speaker advanced the idea that the audience, not only the music and the performers, was an important ingredient.  At the time this was a novel thought for me but I have come to see that the audience are an integral part of any successful performance. Listening with rapt attention, not fidgeting, not coughing, the outburst of emotion and appreciation at the end – all play their part.

Fifthly, The English Concert’s managers and trustees. This might seem an odd thing to include, but it matters.  My wife and I are supporters of various orchestras and often get invited to drinks and nibbles during intervals.  However, intervals in the company of The English Concert’s team are by far the most enjoyable.  We are always made especially welcome by both managers and trustees who dutifully mingle and even learn our names. The ambiance is cheerful and positive, not at all like other groups who stand in cliques and freeze out newcomers.

Finally, the programme notes.  I buy and read hundreds of programmes but most I find turgid, apparently written by musicologists for musicologists.  By contrast, the notes produced by The English Concert are clear, brief and easy to understand – with lots of white space. Nice pictures too!  Instead of analysing the music (there is a bit of that), these notes tend to focus on the composers’ lives and the circumstances that brought about the music. No doubt this is a personal preference; as a psychologist I have always been far more interested in the people who created the music than in the intricacies of the music itself.

So, please find out more about The English Concert by going to  Better still, become a supporter.  See you during the interval drinks!

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