Friday, 13 May 2016

String Quartets and the Public Jukebox - Day One of my Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2016

Today is the first proper day of this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival, my third as a member of the 120-strong team of volunteers that stewards its way through sixteen days of events. and my aim is to get and see as many events as I can in between my allocated shifts. Last night was our final briefing at The Forum, a rallying cry from the festival team led by Executive Director Alex Derbyshire, and a chance to pose in our t-shirts for the obligatory press photographs.

This morning I am on my way to Anglia Square to track down Kristof Kintera's 'Public Jukebox', before heading off to the Octagon Chapel for a lunchtime concert, and calling in at the Festival offices to pick up my instructions for Monday's driving shift. Later this evening I will join other volunteers outside the Forum for tonight's free show, 'Flat', from Rodrigo Pardo.

The 'Public Jukebox' has already travelled around some pretty unusual locations before settling in Norwich for NNF fortnight. It has been pictured in parks, public squares, and even in a sand-dune, but this morning it is creating quite a stir wedged up against a short-term loan and cheque cashing shop in Anglia Square. During my brief visit it produces an eclectic playlist that ranges from The Sex Pistols to Wagner's 'Flight of the Valkyries', and can be heard reverberating around the precinct, along with a few other surprises in between. A pair of volunteers are on hand to explain its operation, and to publicise other free events throughout the coming two weeks.

It may only be a short walk from Anglia Square to the Octagon Chapel, but once inside the eight-sided auditorium the hustle and bustle of the shopping precinct seems a million miles away. This lunchtime concert from the Behn Quartet is the first in a series of five featuring students from the Royal Academy of Music. Always a favourite of mine, these are a chance to see and hear the stars of tomorrow playing today. It is the classical equivalent of seeing an up-and-coming rock and roll band play the Norwich Arts Centre. This lunchtime's programme features the string quartet, with works from Haydn and Ravel.

Haydn is undoubtedly The Grand Daddy of the string quartet, with sixty-eight in total to his name. I certainly would not pretend to be familiar with all of them, but am told that the Opus 20 'Sun' quartets, published in 1772, are seen as a milestone in the history of composition, and influenced classical composers for the next two hundred years. The No6 in A major is today's featured piece, which will be followed with Maurice Ravel's one and only string quartet which, despite its 20th century classicism is still firmly rooted in Haydn's form. 

The Haydn is a chance for violinist Kate Oswin, from New Zealand, to impress, working together with fellow violinist Alicia Berendse, viola player Lydia Abell on viola and Ghislaine McMullin on cello. It is a solid performance, with a delightful menuetto in the third movement. The Ravel is an absolute pleasure, and all four players absolutely nail it, especially during the tricky plucked sections in the second movement, and during McMullin's gorgeously bowed passages in the third. I have always loved this piece, and fans of Wes Anderson will have instantly recognised the excerpt from the second movement used in the soundtrack to 'The Royal Tenenbaums'.

It is an inspired programme, illustrating brilliantly the contrast and the similarities between the two examples of the string quartet form. The whole performance takes just short of an hour, but the entire experience is one of pure joy. The Behn Quartet have certainly set the bench mark for the remainder of the students from the Royal Academy when they perform the other four concerts in this series. 

And so it is now off to the festival offices to pick up my instructions for my drive down to Heathrow Airport on Monday collecting three members from Aurélian Bory's Cie11 who are performing 'Sans Objet' at the Theatre Royal next week, and then a bit of 'down-time' before reporting for duty this evening as a steward for the free outdoor show at The Forum.

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