Thursday, October 19, 2006

"The complete consort dancing together"

Last night Kensington Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 50th anniversary with a concert at the Barbican.

We'd been worried about the risk of booking a hall like that - what if nobody came? We'd have been in a very deep financial hole, for one. Fortunately everyone worked incredibly hard to sell the gig, and over the past week or so, it became clear that far from struggling to minimise our losses, we were looking at the possibility of a sell-out. The last few days I lost a lot of time to regular visits to the Barbican website, willing those last remaining tickets to go. When I arrive at the hall yesterday lunchtime to set up, I was told there were only 25 seats left unsold.

It felt very strange, almost surreal, to stand on that stage as we hauled percussion instruments into place and look out at the empty hall, and to think that we'd be on this side of the performer/audience divide in a matter of hours. As the players arrived, and we began to rehearse, there was a palpable air of excitement, but more remarkably a kind of serenity. No sense of nervousness, just of expectation, that after all the work that has gone into preparing for this night, not just in rehearsing these particular pieces or haranguing anyone and everyone to buy tickets, but over many years to raise the orchestra's standards and ambition to the point where playing the Barbican seems appropriate rather than hubristic, this was a defining moment, the top of a mountain from where we could look back at where we'd come from, and out to the peaks that stand ahead.

Perhaps I'm being a bit over the top here, but what the hell - I'm damn proud of this band and what it's achieved, and of the fact that I get to play in it. As our conductor Russell Keable said in the article in the concert programme, an amateur orchestra can exist for the indulgence of its members or it can try and make a difference, and that's what makes KSO such a rewarding thing to be part of.

Strangely, the size of the audience doesn't really register, I think partly because of the steep banking of the seats in the auditorium. And anyway, the audience tends only to register peripherally when you go onstage - there are too many things to think about without getting nervous at the thought of all those people waiting to hear you. What did make a powerful impression, however, was the sound of the applause. In the places we normally play, the couple of hundred or so people sitting there certainly make a noise, but there are always hints of individual pairs of hands. Here, there was a kind of whooshing sound, like waves on a shingle beach. It was a noise that utterly transformed the evening, and suddenly brought into focus the specialness of the occasion.

Afterwards, we drank in the bar until midnight, and everyone shone with giddy joy at what had just happened. And the next day we got ready for the next 50 years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was rather good, wasn't it? Everyone raved about it this morning at work.

Like the new profile photo.