Family concert with Ann Widdecombe

Saturday 2 March 2013
Trevor Driver

“The orchestra, larger than usual and with many young faces, were then able to demonstrate why they have acquired such a fine reputation.”

Enjoying a taste of the classics….

The idea that Todmorden Orchestra should perform two concerts on the same day in the Town Hall, with one especially for children, may have seemed risky when it was first proposed, but it turned out to be inspirational. Whatever the criteria are for a successful day, last Saturday’s events ticked all the boxes.

Did the audience come to see Anne Widdecombe, now established as a ‘personality’, out of curiosity, did they know that Todmorden now has a high class orchestra which guarantees quality, or were they aware of the popular music on offer? It doesn’t matter because they filled the Town Hall for both performances, and in the afternoon the sight of so many young children, well behaved and responding to the conductor’s questioning, would have gladdened many a heart.

All the musical items on offer seemed to stay within the children’s attention span. The evening audience were sufficiently knowledgeable to avoid the pitfall of inappropriate applause. Both performances had more or less the same programme, opening with Roger Quilter’s Children’s Overture with its interweaving of nursery rhyme favourites, followed by the main attraction, Tubby the Tuba.

Described as a story told in music, it requires a narrator and of course, a tuba, plus the backing of various instruments. Anne Widdecombe told the story and her task required precision timing to co-ordinate with the orchestra. Although her frog impressions were not totally convincing, close attention to the conductor’s left hand direction produced an excellent and confident performance. Andrew Griffiths’ Tubby took us through the emotions of sadness, pity, hope and then joyful acceptance as the whole orchestra played his tune. Andrew Sheldon added his singing voice to part of the story.

The orchestra, larger than usual and with many young faces, were then able to demonstrate why they have acquired such a fine reputation. Starting with Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite all the sections were given the chance to impress, but in the second and third movements the strings took their opportunity with great aplomb. They then had to put down their bows and pluck merrily and confidently in the pizzicato part of the Sylvia Suite by Delibes. The chosen programme meant there was some individual playing, some sectional emphasis and then rip-roaring ensemble. We also heard the welcome sound of the harp.

The overture Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach completed the programme and it gave the ever-reliable leader, Andrew Rostron, a chance to delight us with a lovely interpretation of the beautiful melody that precedes the famous Can-Can finale.

Nicholas Concannon Hodges maintained his unruffled calm throughout the day and his clear direction enabled the performers to produce music of the highest quality. A clear space in the front of the orchestra, a hint to be ready for some fun and some well-spread rumours meant that the appearance of the can-can dancers did not comes as a surprise, and they rounded off the evening in a splendid athletic fashion. Most of the audience were relieved that Miss Widdecombe did not join in!

First time matinee concert a real hit

The concert was the first time in living memory that the orchestra had performed a matinée. Working with artist Lesley Alston, who designed the Tubby the Tuba drawing which saw entries from Year 1 to Year 8 pupils from seven local primary schools, and the contribution made from the Dawn Chapman School of Dance, DC Dance, made this a real community show.

Most pieces were tailored to keep the children’s interest and both matinée and evening performances were packed, and they were delighted with the success of the event. The aim was partly to introduce children to classical music and maybe take up an instrument. Conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges spoke about the instruments and after the matinée a lot of children took the opportunity to take a closer look at them. It caught the imagination and was featured in a television news piece on ITV’s Calendar.