The evening of Sunday the 26th of February was one like none other I’ve experienced. When I was first invited to attend the Insight Ensemble Underground Classical I figured it was an opportunity not to be missed, a big step away from the usual club nights and festivals I generally cover I was unsure of what to expect on the night.
I made my way to the Loco Klub (only getting slightly lost) arriving to be greeted by friendly smiling faces. The Loco Klub is situated under Bristol Temple Mead Station originally serving as an ash pit back in the days when steam trains were still a thing, made up of several high ceiling coves the first of which had a bar in it which I decided I should probably make my way towards. Drink in hand I mingled about the building crowd eagerly waiting in anticipation for the show to start while taking in the interesting decor. Everywhere you looked in the main bar there was things to feast your eyes upon, quirky items such as mannequin heads, typewriters and a huge pink flamingo. After an announcement from Doug Francisco the doors through to the main rooms opened and it was time to begin the magical journey.
The stewards lead the way through the tunnels which were practically pitch black, only faint outline of musicians could be seen around the place. It was slightly eerie but very intriguing. A french horn was sounded and a perfectly placed light shone down on them, everyone fell into complete silence, the acoustics were stunning and it sent a shiver down my spine. The opening piece commissioned by Liam Taylor-West set the evening off at a calm and mesmerizing pace, gradually different musicians took it in turns joining in giving insightful hints of the music to be played later on. Morning from Peer Gynt gently trickled through played on woodwind it sparkled around the space in a serene manor. This was followed by a bassoon which played forward and back with a string quartet placed within a mirrored band stand like stage. Each section was as moving as the next from a mystical marimba that just seemed to creep in, to the bass notes from various instruments that bounced around during a snippet of Hall Of The Mountain King.
The musicians were scattered around the place, some tucked away into little corners, and larger arrangements down the middle, the lights would be switched on as someone was playing and you’d move along to watch them. It was very immersive and an intuitive approach to classical music, a genre of music which isn’t necessarily up everyone’s alley. Being able to get up close to the musicians while they played, along with the interesting setting meant you could really submerse yourself in the music.
Charles Ives The Unanswered Question was a real feast for the ears, the different parts are quite in juxtaposition to each other and this was reflected in the choice of instruments. A string orchestra in the middle represented The Silence Of The Druids, a woodwind ensemble at the end The Hunt For The Invisible Answer while a trumpet player moved about popping up in between the crowd with The Perennial Question. The sound was all around you, it was slightly confusing but really worked. Much like the conflicting sounds you experience when walking round a festival (which I later noticed when reading the programme was what they were going for so well done on that everyone involved!)
Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphony (1st Movement) in contrast to the Unanswered Question was an uplifting and calming piece. Performed on an array of wind instruments it was a joyous pick me up, with a smooth start and bright middle. This was followed on by Fanfare For The Common Man written by Aaron Copland again another contrasting piece to the one before. Strong drums kick started the song, followed by clean intense horns. It had a triumphant feel to it, while at the same it made me feel quite emotional. It’s a song I’ve heard plenty of times before and has never had much of an effect on me, I’m not sure if it was the setting or just the quality of the live orchestra but either way it hit me deep inside.
Also performed on the night was Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5 Adagietto played by a full Orchestra. It was accompanied by dance duet Patricia Langa and Daniel Hay-Gordon, the dance was extremely poetic and worked perfectly with the song telling a story of love. I was so involved with the music it took me a moment to notice the dancers who were pretty much right next to me but once I’d clocked on I was transfixed by their fluid movements and synchronicity. Simply beautiful!
Continuing as a full orchestra conducted by Nick Bromilow they ended by revisiting Edward Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.1. A superb way to end a wonderful evening as the piece builds throughout finishing with the exultant Hall Of The Mountain King. The whole night really was above and beyond what I could have expected. The production was spot on and really made you appreciate the music. I’ve been to classical shows before and to be honest I often to fade out after a while, that’s not to say I don’t like classical music but the formal sit down setting can be quite tiring. This was far removed from any experiences I’ve had in the past, and I was surprised when it ended that it had been on for an hour! Whether you’re a classical music lover or not I highly recommend you check the Insight Ensemble out if they do another Underground Classical. Big well done has to be said to all involved, with special mention of managing director / leader Anneka Sutcliffe.