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Review – Cellist Matthew Sharp and the Northern Chamber Orchestra

I last wrote about the wonderful Northern Chamber Orchestra when I visited the rather lovely Stoller Hall for the first time, back in May 2018 – https://honorarymancblog.com/2018/05/18/the-northern-chamber-orchestra-mozart-and-elgar-and-beethoven-oh-my/

Yes I was rather taken with the acoustics of the environment and hall, and I’m not going to pretend to go down the ‘but was it the location and the acoustics that provided such a pleasurable experience’ path, because that would be ludicrous and frankly condescending to the orchestra (even though the answer is a formidable

NO!

Although I should probably add…

AS LOVELY AS THEY WERE!

The Northern Chamber Orchestra is the Northern Chamber Orchestra, is the Northern Chamber Orchestra. And this time they brought their beautiful talent to the rather charming venue of the Focus Theatre in Romiley, Stockport.

Blink and you’ll miss it, it would be easy to overlook this venue by the precinct, but find, go in and enter the auditorium and it’s just, well, charming! And being fortunate enough to be a regular theatre-goer, I have sat in many a seat and that red velvet seat was one of the most comfortable I have ever relaxed in.

And relaxed was the word, that evening as the Orchestra and guest soloist, Matthew Sharp, took us on a musical journey which soothed, delighted and almost sent this writer into a glorious slumber (on my signed Uri Geller bent spoon, this is a compliment).

For what is music if not to take us out of ourselves, our busy lives, our worries and woes (blimey do forgive the drama – I write this amidst the litany of Coronavirus concerns, updates and world-wide stresses – you get the picture).

And so after a wonderfully rousing rendition of the Overture from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (full disclosure, I’ve seen The Marriage of Figaro but my heart belonged to the opening of the film Trading Places – forgive me Amadeus), we were introduced to cellist, Matthew Sharp.

Internationally recognised not only as a cellist, but also as an accomplished actor, Matthew definitely brought a presence and energy to the stage even before he picked up his instrument, engaging the audience in the tale of why he was sporting a t-shirt to perform in (backstage wardrobe malfunctions of the ripped shirt variety).

The audience instantly on his side before a note played, after which you could have heard a pin drop as those glorious sounds that can only eminate from a cello (granted you have to be able to play too) filled the theatre. Stoller, Schmoller (just kidding Stoller Hall – see you again in May…) The Forum Theatre held its own.

Performing Antonio Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor. This is one of the most performed cello concertos of all time with many of the world’s greatest cellists recording it, including Jacqueline du Pre (who Sharp performed for at the age of 12).

As the world’s ills evaporated around us, Matthew Sharp, along with the orchestra, had our full attention and awe, not least that of some of the students who he had been working with all week in the area, as part of education and outreach programmes.

With the audience in the palm of his hand, his modest attempts to quietly leave the hall after his performance were met with a crowd of people wishing to shake his hand, say hello and even capture a quick selfie with the talented musician.

And so we were then treated to an upbeat end to the concert from the orchestra with Hayden’s Symphony no.101 subtitled The Clock and finally the last two sections of Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo: Saturday Night Waltz and Hoedown which left us all feeling like we’d left Romiley for the deep Wild West of America.

And so, there are plenty of opportunities to see and hear this wonderful orchestra.

And you simply must. Find them here at https://www.ncorch.co.uk/concerts/

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The Northern Chamber Orchestra – Mozart and Elgar and Beethoven – Oh my!

My late father was a musician and, at 16, the youngest at that time to be accepted into the Royal College of Music in London.

We were blessed with many stories and anecdotes from my Dad’s life as a professional musician, over the years, but I remember two life tips he gave me in particular:

Never learn to drive – you’ll never stop paying out on cars

Done.

And

At some point in your life, move to London.

I have, thus far, not adhered to this. He’d clearly not spent enough time in Manchester ☺️

Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Northern Chamber Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary Season Finale at the beautiful Stoller Hall.

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Set up in 1967, the Orchestra not only presents an annual series of 8 concerts a year at the Heritage Centre in Macclesfield, it is also the ‘orchestra in residence’ at Buxton Festival, and of course now plays too at Manchester’s Stoller Hall – the scene of the aforementioned Finale.

A word on the Stoller Hall, I hang my head in ignorant shame and admit that not only had I not attended any concerts at this venue previously, I didn’t even know of its existence and had only attended classical music concerts in Manchester at the Bridgewater.

I could be forgiven slightly (oh go on, forgive me massively), when research tells me that the Hall only opened its doors last year in April.

Part of the School of Music that requires little introduction, Chetham’s, the Concert Hall can be found opposite the steps to another great musical concert institution, the Manchester Arena, and across from Victoria Station.

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Audiences take their seats below ground level, in a hall which is architecturally breathtaking and, I understand,  acoustically astounding.

I’m no acoustician (yes, it’s a word), but every stroke of the violin bow, every note of the woodwind, every percussionist’s ‘beat’, indeed didn’t feel as though it stopped at the listener’s ears but resonated throughout the body, immersing you in the music played before you.

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And so to the music played before me and my plus 1 that afternoon.

The pieces played were:

Overture Zauberflote – Mozart

Cello Concerto – Elgar

Symphony No. 5 – Beethoven

The highlight, it must be said, was the Cello Concerto, the centre of such being internationally renowned cellist and, indeed, the Orchestra’s President, Raphael Wallfisch.

A beautifully toned instrument alone, we were taken through a captivating and deeply expressive performance by Mr Wallfisch, the mood of the piece clearly felt throughout this wonderful musician, his body language and facial expressions anticipating and matching each strain.

Speaking of wonderful musicians, whilst the Cellist took literal centre stage, the rest of the Orchestra more than shared the limelight and reasons for myself and fellow concert-goers’ captivation and awe.

Bookended by the overture to Mozart’s Magic Flute and the forceful, rousing Beethoven’s C minor Symphony, the concert and indeed 50th season came to a rapturous end, with the applause pushing the acoustics to their limits (I’m basically saying it was loud).

I’m sure my Father would agree that not all roads need lead to London, and that Manchester more than holds its own in all matters of culture, not least in the wealth of opportunities to hear such musicianship both in the City Centre and across the region.

Speaking of which, your next opportunity to experience the Northern Chamber Orchestra is on Friday 25 May, in West Didsbury – more details here.

And so, added to my list of why Manchester is Everything, is the Northern Chamber Orchestra and the Stoller Hall.

I’m still with my Dad on the not driving thing. I mean, where would I want to go?

www.ncorch.co.uk