I’m Erik Chapman, a first violinist in the orchestra, and like Helen who wrote earlier, I too am a Board member.
Life in the RPO is never, and I mean never, dull. And this last week did not disappoint. It began Tuesday with a concert at our home, Cadogan Hall, with an all-Tchaikovsky evening featuring Francesco Manara, concertmaster of the Filarmonica della Scala, performing the Violin Concerto. We’ve performed this concerto so many times with so many artists (and to think that when first composed it was considered unplayable), yet I never seem to tire of it. The solo writing is so inventive and challenging but so too is the orchestral writing, and of course the third movement contains one of the most riveting tutti sections ever written.
Wednesday found four of us at Elliott School in Putney, where three of their young composers were selected to work with us on their new string quartet compositions. My colleagues and I were thrilled to find three very interesting pieces, each written with direction and flair. It is so satisfying knowing there are young people in our schools actually writing for string quartet. Later that evening we even performed the pieces as part of the school’s concert in aid of the Japan Disaster Appeal.
The next day was a bit different. It’s a programme we definitely look forward to, a day to let our hair down (well, for those with hair) and have a great time with some very familiar music – but music made familiar by the radio and stereo. Yes, it’s Symphonic Rock! We men don our white dinner jackets, the lights come up in the Royal Albert Hall, the amps are cranked and suddenly we’re playing Coldplay, Meat Loaf, Michael Jackson, George Michael and Led Zeppelin. It’s loud, the crowd screams and it’s just too much fun.
On Friday morning, a small group of us were out in Grays working with young children. We demonstrated how our instruments work, how an orchestra works and spoke about the life of a classical musician. All was going according to plan until one youngster piped up, “Why does it sound so weird?” We were stumped. How does one answer such a question? I suppose the question simply proves the continuous need for music education in our schools.
Later that day the entire orchestra performed a concert of English music at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford. Each piece required a different sound world and the orchestra adapted so quickly and seemingly effortlessly. As an American, concerts like these are very special to me; they remind me of how fortunate I am to play this music in its native country with such amazing musicians.
Saturday’s concert at Fairfield Halls, Croydon and Sunday’s in the Royal Albert Hall presented very similar programmes. They too were all-Tchaikovsky programmes but the only overlap with Tuesday’s performance was the wonderful Capriccio Italien. We also played Marche Slave, the Piano Concerto No.1 with Freddy Kempf, excerpts from The Nutcracker and possibly the evening’s pièce de résistance, the 1812 Overture. And for those wondering, yes, there were cannon shots and fireworks in the 1812 – adding to the excitement! What a week!