Sitting in the balcony with Elgar

Sitting in the balcony with Elgar

Listening to a professional orchestra rehearse is a privilege that not very many people get to experience, but every so often I like to take some time away from my desk in the RSNO's office and nip up to the balcony of the Henry Wood Hall to sit and listen to the Orchestra as they prepare for the coming weekend's concerts.  Having studied music myself, it is an experience that is not wholly unfamiliar, but the way that this band works with Peter Oundjian is simply mesmerising and my trips up to the balcony serve as a perfect reminder of why I do the job I do - spreading the word about the wonderful music that the RSNO produces each week in concert halls across Scotland.
These first couple of weeks of our new Season are ever so slightly different this year as our first couple of soloists are not being flown in from the international touring circuit, instead the spotlight is shining within our own ranks. Last week we had the truly stunning 5-star performances from our Principal Flautist Kathryn Bryan who played to audiences in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow as we opened our 2014:15 Season.
This week is the turn of our Principal Cellist, Aleksei Kiseliov, who joined the Orchestra in September 2011, and he will be playing Elgar's immensely popular Cello Concerto.
I got in touch with the wonderful people at Elgar's Birthplace Museum and Visitor Centre, who were very kind in giving us access to some incredibly interesting information and resources relating to the various works by Elgar that the Orchestra will be performing throughout the Season. On my trip up to the balcony on Wednesday I felt like I'd been joined by a bit of history; whilst Aleksei was playing I had in my hand the facsimile of the piano score of the Cello Concerto, written in Elgar's own hand for his young friend, Alice Stuart Wortley (see below).

I've always loved following scores whilst listening to music, but there really is something about seeing the original handwritten version of a theme... makes the music more real somehow, more alive.
Another quite extraordinary thing is to hear the music whilst looking at photographs of not only of Elgar with the gent who gave the premiere of the Cello Concerto, but also of the very house in which it was composed. That kind of insight into Elgar's surroundings just adds another dimension to the music.

Brinkwells Cottage, in Fittleworth, Sussex, where Elgar wrote his Cello Concerto.

Edward Elgar with Felix Salmond (left) who gave the premiere of his Cello Concerto.
Shortly after the above photo was taken, Elgar wrote to his friend Sidney Colvin (one of the dedicatees of the concerto) to report on how it was coming along:

"Felix Salmond has been down here & we have put the finishing touches to your cello concerto & it will be produced at a London Symph. Orch. Concert before Christmas. Date to be fixed but I will let you hear it the earliest."

I'm also pleased to report that Wednesday's rehearsal with Aleksei and the RSNO went much better than the one the gentlemen above had before the Cello Concerto's premiere.  As Elgar's wife Alice noted in her diary on the 27th October 2019:

"E. & A. & C. to Queen's Hall for rehearsal at 12.30 or rather before - absolutely inadequate at that - That Coates went on rehearsing Secy. remonstrated, no use, at last just before one, he stopped & the men like Angels stayed till 1.30 - A. wanted E. to withdraw, but he did not for Felix S.’s sake - Indifferent performance of course in consequence E. had a tremendous reception & ovation -"

On the subject of tremendous receptions and ovations, I have no doubt that you'll be part of one soon should you be lucky enough to have secured a ticket for one of this weekend's concerts!
If you don't have a ticket yet, there are only a few still available, so hurry! Book online at www.rsno.org.uk/whatson
Until the next time...
The photos, manuscripts and transcripts included in this blog were kindly provided courtesy of The Elgar Birthplace MuseumThe photos, manuscripts and transcripts included in this blog were kindly provided courtesy of The Elgar Birthplace Museum.