Classical: Orchestral manoeuvres in the park

It seems to be a traditional British occupation to combine discomfort with culture. This summer thousands of us will flock to listen to al fresco classics in the cold, the wind and the rain. Have we taken leave of our senses? By Ian Pillow

A crowd is gathering on the pavement, looking up at the sky and pointing excitedly at a wing-shaped object hurtling towards them: "Is it a bird?" "Is it a plane?" "No it's... the viola part of `Superman'!" A cry of recognition goes up as the pages scud crazily across the bleak grey sky, carried by the bitterly cold northerly gale as they wing their way towards the Isle of Wight. Yes, it's open-air concert time again.

Maybe it's part of a British fantasy that our island in summer is really a sub-tropical paradise occasionally inconvenienced by the odd unseasonable shower and coolish breeze. We optimistically grow palm trees in our front gardens, call our seaside "Riviera" and barbecue under a fig-tree which is clinging to semi-survival against the garage wall. And we book well in advance for open-air concerts. Strong evidence of this fantasy is shown by the fact that the box office is busiest when the sun shines. This sun is the real thing; cold and rain are just figments of a pessimistic imagination.

Then the long-anticipated concert arrives and, blow me, the odd unseasonable downpour ("organised rain" is the latest Met Office buzzword) and cold gale coincidentally organises itself over the very stately home where the concert is taking place. People sit there in anoraks and parkas, wear several layers of vests and thermals and two pairs of trousers. That's the orchestra I'm referring to (I've even found a pair of gloves that play semi-quavers).

The audience, in addition, have acquired blankets, sleeping bags, even tents. That phone call to the box office made in a moment of euphoric optimism was soon followed by a trip to Millet's for essential supplies.

Seasoned open-air concert goers plan their evening with military precision. I'm sure they pay an advance visit to the venue to do a recce and, compass in hand, draw a sketch of the battlefield, taking note of the siting of the concert platform, the positioning of trees and bushes, and take soil samples to test the drainage properties of the ground.

They then spend the next few days monitoring the weather forecast closely. Come concert night they queue up early, and, when the gates open, in they flood, knowing exactly where to position themselves. If you've missed the latest weather forecast, they're worth watching. When rain is predicted they head straight for the trees on high ground. The music-lovers go down- wind of the speakers. In a strong westerly only muffled sounds of brass and percussion - like a distant seaside band - will reach those situated to the east of the speakers. If the forecast is good, then the seasoned punters will take up a variety of stations according to need. Those who love their Nimrod will have calculated the direction of the setting sun at the time the piece is played and will position themselves in readiness for a moving experience. Those who love their tipple will position themselves with easy access to the Portaloos, itself a moving experience.

I'm constantly amazed at the paraphernalia which is brought onto the site by the audience. Armed with many bundles and sundry furniture, they look like Pickford's men. At our most recent concert, a family carried in a stretcher draped in a white sheet under which was the lumpy shape of a body. I wondered whether it was granny's last wish to make her final journey to the strains of "Strike up the Band". I jumped out of my skin when the sheet was whipped away - only to reveal a particularly ample picnic. The size and quality of these picnics are a constant source of fascination, ranging from the pork pie and pop on a rug, to devilled crab, sauteed chicken breasts, strawberries and champagne groaning on a trestle table under a B&Q gazebo.

You may be surprised to learn that genuine music lovers actually attend these events - after all, a selection from Oklahoma! by a miked-up orchestra blasting out from huge speakers is not exactly for the connoisseur. But here is another British peculiarity. Just like a migrating bird, or Cinderella's pumpkin, a strange metamorphosis takes place come June. I don't know if it's to do with the phase of the Moon, or what, but people who have happily sat through Bach, Berlioz and Birtwistle in a comfy warm hall during the winter, will from this date hence forth only want to hear the 1812 Overture on a damp rug and be bitten by mosquitoes.

In the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, we're old hands at this game and come as well prepared as the punters. We bring emergency clothing, picnics, our families, friends and clothes pegs; we are determined to enjoy ourselves. A good pint makes the evening go with a swing. At one venue where there was no pub for miles, I was reduced to squeezing the contents of a couple of Calvados pancakes purchased from the on-site creperie into my mouth for my essential fix.

The clothes pegs are for the storm-battered music. It takes four hands to turn a page, two to turn the wildly flapping music over and two to fix the clothes pegs. I'm sure that one day we'll play a piece where all the orchestra members have to turn a page at the same time and there will be complete silence.

So far this season the weather has been mixed. With nine concerts still to go, anything could happen. Whatever the weather, there's never a dull moment. Inigo Jones and co might have had many grandiose ideas when planning these great parks, but I don't think that a symphony orchestra at the bottom of the garden was one of them.

The incongruity has thrown up some interesting scenarios. Our coaches have got jammed between the narrow park gates and the hedge opposite while trying to get out after the concert. We've had the usual ooohs from the audience at the first explosion of fireworks, but whether this was because of the spectacular display of rockets or the even more spectacular display of several hundred sheep stampeding towards the exit, wasn't clear. We must make sure not to play Sheep May Safely Graze next time they're put in with a flock of fireworks.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Gravelle on trial for Danny Latimer's murder as Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Review: Broadchurch episode 7

Arts and Entertainment
Barry Norman has predicted a Best Actor win for Michael Keaton at this Sunday's awards

Arts and Entertainment
The right stuff: 'Ukip: the First 100 Days'

Review: UKIP: The First 100 Days TV
Arts and Entertainment
Anastasia Steele with Christian Grey in his offices in Fifty Shades of Grey

Arts and Entertainment
Class act: Julia McKenzie and Keeley Hawes in 'The Casual Vacancy'

JK Rowling's story is a far better drama than it is a book

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers

Arts and Entertainment
The BBC's version of 'The Crimson Petal and the White'


Arts and Entertainment
We will remember them: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' at the Tower of London

Art Police investigate abuse sent to Paul Cummins over Tower of London installation

Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman was named worst actress for her performance as Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, said the UK government ought to honour its subject
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower