Debretzeni/OAE/Night Shift, Queen Elizabeth Hall

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The Independent Culture

I wouldn’t normally choose to sit through the same concert twice on the trot – not even for a soprano as irresistible as Rosemary Joshua, or a period band as good as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. But curiosity about one possible effect of the coming cuts made me relax my rule, and stay on after normal hours to sample the OAE’s Night Shift.

These ground-breaking concerts couldn’t happen without help from trusts and foundations. They are designed to bring in new young audiences, and are publicised at freshers’ fairs. This one repeated the evening’s main concert at 10.00pm, with a cheap student-ticket also covering the cost of a beer; the hour between the two events was pleasantly filled by a folk group called the Silvermoths in the foyer. On a show of hands asked for by the Night Shift compere at the start of the performance, it was clear that most of the young audience had not attended one of these events before, and that, for some, this was their first-ever classical concert. The orchestra’s leader Kati Debretzeni came forward and talked engagingly (and without condescension) about what we were going to hear, then we were off into a dazzling Concerto Grosso by Corelli. And guess what? Though it had been stressed that people could not only bring their drinks into the auditorium, but also come and go during the performance, nobody did: they were as rapt and respectful as the regular classical audience had been two hours earlier. And the orchestra played no less well – indeed, if anything, rather better.

Then came three arias from Handel’s Italian-period oratorio ‘Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno’, with Joshua negotiating the coloratura with bewitching ease; then came a Vivaldi violin concerto. The Transylvanian-born Debretzeni may rival Nigel Kennedy in both showmanship and virtuosity, but it was the sheer seductiveness of this music which won all hearts.

What do we conclude? That Baroque is still the best way into classical music for neophytes, as Kennedy once proved with ‘The Seasons’; that with good music, even young people like to listen in silence; that concerts like this ensure classical music’s future; and that charity funding is crucial. But that may now dry up.