sun 09/08/2020

London 2012: The Big Concert, Raploch | reviews, news & interviews

London 2012: The Big Concert, Raploch

London 2012: The Big Concert, Raploch

Young Venezuelans make room for younger Scots as the Olympics' cultural festival opens in a damp field on the edge of Stirling

What's Scottish for Mambo? Gustavo Dudamel in Stirling with the young musicians of Big NoiseMarc Marnie

There are of course no superlatives left when it comes to these Venezuelans. And yet last night called on those witnessing the al fresco performance of the  Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra to root around in the store cupboard for a couple more. Coldest midsummer night ever experienced by a South American? No that won’t be it. Wettest? Neither. Most tumultuous celebration of the centrality of music in all our lives to take place in a Scottish field? Certainly.

This opening night of the London 2012 Festival – the event was marked elsewhere all over the country, but this was the one on BBC Four – featured not only Gustavo Dudamel’s world famous young musicians encoring in their red, yellow and blue jackets, but also a younger ensemble from the neighbourhood. El Sistema has a satellite project in Raploch, a housing scheme on the edge of Stirling, and it was the musicians of Big Noise who opened the night with a whole-hearted rendition of the Rondeau from Purcell’s Abdelnazer.

OK, there have been less scratchy accounts of the tune which Britten would use as a gateway into A Young Person’s  Guide to the Orchestra. But that is not remotely the point. Sistema Scotland, founded four years ago more or less to the day, has experimentally set up shop in Raploch and imported the precepts of José Antonio Abreu, that learning to play in an orchestra equips a young person with the lessons for life which will give him or her the tools to become responsible citizens and rounded humans. The reward for the 130 pioneers of Big Noise was this big gig. As El Sistema spreads its tentacles throughout the UK and all over the world, not every young ensemble will have the opportunity to play with the music education philosophy’s poster orchestra (nor of course to open a 12-week international arts festival). So the placing of Big Noise in this vaunted slot was somewhere between an acclamation and an advertisement for the healing powers of cultural involvement.

That was most powerfully stated when, after the evening’s junior overture, the programme moved on to the Egmont Overture, which the two orchestras delivered in harness. Youth orchestras always have it in them to get the waterworks going anyway but, for all but the grimmest cynics, the sight and the sound of this collaboration was intensely moving. Fledgling fair-haired Celts each shared a desk with a Latin tutor and delivering a Beethovenian rallying cry. When they took the applause, Dudamel shook the hands of all the Scottish string players in front of him. Such a gesture that could not be misinterpreted. The pupils and graduates of El Sistema are all in this together.

After that, the Young Person’s Guide was thematically the right choice, but a playful lecture from Britten sandwiched between two magisterial slabs of Beethoven felt slightly lost in the wet evening air. After the interval, the Eroica did what the Eroica is meant to do: make the world sit up and listen. The nuances were of course muddy over the sound system competing with children playing at the back and the wind whipping thousands of free London 2012  plastic ponchos. But the sense of ignition was not lost on anyone. Above all the horns, restored to their natural habitat of the great outdoors before Handel and Bach ushered them into the fold, played a blinder.

And then came the Venezuelans’ regular party trick, the jackets, the fanfares of a rhythm nation culminating in Bernstein’s “Mambo”. This signature moment of theirs never fails to hit the spot, even with body temperatures plunging southwards. As has become a Venezuelan habit, they exited with a local tune, in this case “Auld Lang Syne”, to which several thousand revellers supplied Rabbie Burns’ words. Not much chance of old acquaintance being forgot in this instance as fireworks turned the low-hanging clouds over Stirling Castle pink and green. Abreu, who took the audience's applause during the concert, said last night that he would like a substantial group of Raploch's musicians to visit Venezuela. They deserve it.

Follow @JasperRees on Twitter

The placing of Big Noise in this vaunted slot was somewhere between an acclamation and an advertisement

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thank you very much indeed for telling us of this remarkable evening will you let us know programme of their London appearances? thank you, again

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