Sitting on your hands is bad for your health

'In other kinds of music,you don't have to keep a religious silence, and the band talks to the audience'
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The Independent Online

The Bath Festival came to an end at the weekend with something that even Edinburgh doesn't have: a closing ceremony. Actually, the Edinburgh Festival doesn't really close at all, so much as dribble away into the sand with people saying to each other, "I don't think the third week is really worth staying up for, do you?" then staying up for it before being forced south by an attack of festival glut (symptoms: chronic fatigue, lack of money, inability to find clean clothes, and an urge never, ever to return to Edinburgh, which fades away completely by Christmas).

The Bath Festival came to an end at the weekend with something that even Edinburgh doesn't have: a closing ceremony. Actually, the Edinburgh Festival doesn't really close at all, so much as dribble away into the sand with people saying to each other, "I don't think the third week is really worth staying up for, do you?" then staying up for it before being forced south by an attack of festival glut (symptoms: chronic fatigue, lack of money, inability to find clean clothes, and an urge never, ever to return to Edinburgh, which fades away completely by Christmas).

But last year, for the first time, the Bath Festival dreamt up a closing ceremony at which the brilliant musician Will Gregory filled the Georgian Circus with brass bands and choirs, wrote music for them, had musicians hanging out of windows and created a magical enclosed musical experience that had us cheering and yelling for more.

It's nice to be able to cheer and yell anywhere during a musical experience. Some classical musicians, such as Roger Norrington, have come out in favour of spontaneous reactions, but generally you still have to sit on your hands in a way that can only damage the emotions. At such moments I think back to my school days, when I found myself watching a First XV rugby match, standing next to a languid aesthete friend of mine, Patrick Taylor. After one exhibition of passing, I cheered dutifully, at which he turned on me fiercely and said: "Don't you know that you should never, never clap between movements?" I thought of him again the other day when my wife took me to a piano/violin recital in Guildhall, in which the soloists Daniel Hope and Simon Mulligan played the middle scherzo of a Shostakovich sonata so dramatically that we raised our hands to clap but had to put them back again because nobody else did, even though it hurt not to clap. I wonder how Hope and Mulligan felt...

It's refreshingly different in other kinds of music, where you don't have to keep a religious silence, and where the band talks to the audience. Rock musicians tend to talk at the audience; jazz concerts usually offer a better attempt at intimate chat between leader and listener, though in my limited experience, the best class of banter is to be heard at folk music events, where the musician often takes as much pride in his well-hewn introduction as in the song. It may not be deep stuff, but it helps to establish a link between us and them.

Half the time that Hope and Mulligan were playing Beethoven, Paganini and Shostakovich, I was wondering what their voices sounded like, not because I was especially interested in their voices, simply because convention forbids them to address the audience. What made this even more odd, as this was a live broadcast, was Radio 3 announcer Chris de Souza sitting in his headphones to one side and nattering away about the music. Why shouldn't the musicians have a chance to talk?

Well, they do sometimes. On Saturday there was a stunning performance of Orlando Gough's "The Shouting Fence", at Prior Park School, in the shell of the old gym where the two groups of singers re-enacted his version of the two villages who, separated by the Israeli war line, could only shout their news over the fence at each other. You couldn't hear all the words and it wasn't always clear (to me) what was going on, but the impact was wonderful, and what made it better was that composer Gough was not only there in person, but actually talked to us beforehand and urged us, among other things, to perambulate during the music, then set an example by prowling around throughout with his long rangy figure.

For this year's closing ceremony Will Gregory had reassembled the choirs and brass bands, not in the circus this time, but down on Parade Gardens, where the River Avon runs, with the abbey as a backdrop and a new moon hanging in the evening sky like a freshly minted toe-nail clipping. Far from being massed bands, they were separated by hundreds of feet yet all playing the same thing thanks to the miracle of walkie-talkies connecting the conductors, waving their large illuminated batons, and in the middle of it all a large ghost ship glided silently up the Avon making mysterious musical noises and disappeared again leaving the bands to melt away and reassemble elsewhere in the shrubbery...

I have never seen a ship get several rounds of applause in a concert before. There is hope for us all yet.

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