The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has been taking part in the groundbreaking World Orchestra Project for the past year. RPO Contrabassoonist Fraser Gordon reports on last Friday’s culmination concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
Having arrived for the 9.15am rehearsal (an unusually early time for me to be up) all was quiet at the Royal Albert Hall. The tumbleweed wouldn’t last long however. With some of the young players already in position, I meandered onstage with my bassoon to find the hall totally transformed: the orchestra was going to be SO large, it extended into the Arena. The woodwind were to sit at the very front of the stage where the strings normally go, extending all the way across the front of it (a couple of harps nestled in next to the piccolo section – yes there was more than one – harp and piccolo, that is) and back to the first riser.
Once everybody was in place, RPO players included, oh, and the steel band, not forgetting the Saz group (a Turkish plucked instrument) and of course the rock band, the focus of this massive group turned to conductor Nick Collon to rehearse for the concert in a couple of hours.
My little bassoon group was by far outnumbered by the clarinets and flutes and sat cosily behind the oboes on stage but we were determined to make our mark on the piece, which had been written by the young performers themselves with the help of composer James Redwood. Nick thankfully had a microphone to communicate with the entire group otherwise I’ve no idea how it would have worked! There was just enough time to play a couple of the trickier sections again (although having said that, the whole piece was tricky – some RPO players had turned up early to have another quick look) but the young players seemed wholly unphased by it all. The size of the orchestra and the distances between players was no barrier to them – they just slotted their parts into the groove and along it all went, sounding totally great and gelling together like a string quartet in somebody’s front room. Incredible.
For the performance, we were joined by over THREE THOUSAND children’s voices, filling the stalls, circle, boxes and the usual choir seats. We had about two seconds to rehearse their sections of the piece but it all went like clockwork. The singers responded perfectly and to hear that many children’s voices singing at you on stage was immensely powerful. “We are olympic stars” was my favourite bit, which they sang towards the end, in the groovy bit just after the steel band section. Some players had the chance to play solos. I’ve played at the Albert Hall for lots of RPO concerts and the Proms and I’ve never had a chance to do a real solo – what an opportunity to be part of something totally huge and totally cool! That goes for me and the young players. My young bassoon colleague from Haringey Youth Orchestra tells me that the hall is a lot bigger than on telly. Well we are playing at Wembley next!
The second World Orchestra Project concert takes place tonight (Tuesday 24th April) at Wembley Arena as part of Brent Makes Music. Click here for booking details.