Most of my friends know that classical crossover music has become a hugely important part of my life in the three and a bit years since my wife died. Music has brought me comfort, it has brought me interest and entertainment, but best of all it has brought me something else which I never expected when I first entered Hayley Westenra’s name in the Amazon search box – friendship.
86% of my facebook friends I would never have known without classical crossover music; indeed I would probably never have been on facebook at all without it. I have never even met about two thirds of you, but that doesn’t mean that our friendship isn’t real; many of you play a significant part in my life.
So, as I look back over the year 2012, during which I have probably attended more than forty concerts, my highlights include not only musical memories but also special moments in which friendships have grown.
Apologies for the facebook references. I first wrote this for facebook but thought I would share it here for those who are not fb friends.
January brought my first live experience of Becky Jane Taylor’s singing. Becky’s voice has grown wonderfully in the years since her last album release. A hastily arranged booking and meeting with Becky at the Soldiers concert in Horsham left me so smitten that I couldn’t resist the opportunity for an even more last minute booking to see Becky guesting with Alfie Boe at Bournemouth, even if it involved a 100 mile drive there and home again after the show. I’m still waiting for my next chance to hear Becky, and for her promised new album.
In February, I finally got to hear Hayley Griffiths sing, though I had met her 15 months earlier. Katherine Jenkins provided an opportunity to visit my son in Nottingham (or was it the other way round). But my most treasured memory is of meeting fellow CCUK forum member Bob and his wife Kim, spending a few hours showing them around London between flights at Heathrow.
In March, I was back at Bournemouth (better planned this time) to see Hayley Westenra, and got to meet Martin while we waited for Hayley to arrive. Hayley managed to floor me with her opening song, leaving me a quivering emotional wreck, but that voice which first brought me comfort has lost none of its healing power. Nobody can stay down for long when listening to Hayley. <3
But March had yet more emotional upheaval in store for me. My father died suddenly on the 14th and in the twelve days before his funeral I was privileged to hear Mary-Jess and meet her no less than three times. Those occasions also provided the opportunity to renew my acquaintance and build a deeper friendship with Darren, Graham, Jim and Len, and to meet Andy and Rob for the first time. Thank you Mary-Jess; the comfort you gave couldn’t have come at a more needed time for me.
Musical highlight for April was when I won a competition to see the new opera quartet Amore in a small private club in Soho. They sang a few songs from their (then) upcoming album ‘Stand Together’, and I spent some time with them afterwards in the bar. I have seen them a few times since and they always show me up by waving at me. Luckily I wasn’t present when they got half drowned singing to the queen on her Diamond Jubilee Thames pageant; I don’t think a wave would have been quite appropriate
I spent my birthday weekend in Cornwall, much of the time with Phillippa Lusty and her family, also giving me a long awaited chance to catch up with my best internet friend Nicola, Adam and James. Even the woefully inadequate sound system at the Faerie Ball couldn’t dampen my spirits that weekend.
The first weekend in June marked the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, including a spectacular gala concert at the Royal Albert Hall with Russell Watson and Natasha Marsh.
The royal theme continued later in the month with two concerts at the historic Hampton Court Palace. The first was a Classical Gala featuring Laura Wright and also giving another opportunity to meet up with friends. The second was my first full length concert with Katie Melua.
I will take a pause from my tales of concerts and meetings to tell you about two names discovered this year that have been a significant drain on my bank balance and have claimed a disproportionate share of my listening time.
My friend Jenny (another that I have never met ) has been steadily stretching my musical tastes eastward and introduced me to the Japanese girl band Kalafina. Perhaps not strictly classical crossover, though they are described as neo-classical; all their music is original, composed by the band’s creator, Yuki Kajiura. Their three very different voices blend to produce a wonderful sound and their videos are a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. <3
My other discovery that has dominated even more is the Japanese solo artist Ayaka Hirahara. I came across her by chance when browsing on YouTube, had to investigate further and before I knew it had ordered an album. Of course it didn’t stop there and within eight months I have acquired all 11 of her albums, her latest single and three live concert DVDs. Actually a pop singer, her first single release in 2003 just happened to be based on a classical theme – Holst’s Jupiter. She didn’t turn to classical music in a big way though until 2009 with the release of the first of three ‘My Classics’ albums. I find her voice gentle, yet compelling. The fact that I don’t know Japanese is irrelevant as long as the voice and music are right.
July held two of the most significant events of the year for me. First was Sisca’s visit to London with her family. Our passing acquaintance grew into a strong friendship in the preparation for her visit. Sadly, the mini-concert that we had planned for a number of friends didn’t work out in practice, but Sisca remains one of my dearest friends to this day.
Later in the month, Mariette Davina came to do a concert in my church. I had offered earlier in the year when I heard that she was looking for tour venues, and was quite amazed and delighted when she accepted. It was a privilege and pleasure to be able to offer something practical to help one of the independent artists in the genre which has done so much for me. Again, the friendship built through the preparations for the event meant just as much to me as the concert itself.
The first Saturday in August found me sitting in a deckchair in London’s Grosvenor Square, listening to Rhiannon Lambert singing as half of Passionata Duo. I went to introduce myself after the concert, but Rhiannon had already recognized me.
The following day I made the drive to Audley End near Cambridge for a wonderful outdoor concert with Natasha Marsh and renewing my acquaintance with Amore, also making more new friends in the audience.
September brought me round to the event where the seeds of my love for classical crossover music were first sown. Over the past ten years, the annual BBC Songs of Praise ‘Big Sing’ at the Royal Albert Hall has been my introduction to Hayley Westenra, Katherine Jenkins, Andrea Bocelli, Russell Watson and many more wonderful musicians. This year the guest artists were Alfie Boe and Laura Wright. The second of this year’s shows will be broadcast on BBC1 tomorrow at 16:50. www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01plrnr
It was wonderful to meet Rhiannon, Hayley and Amore again at other concerts that month.
An unexpected bonus was the Scala & Kolacny Brothers concert at Shepherds Bush where I met up with Nic & Adam and Graham again. And not only did I meet my new friend Ron for the first time, but also found we were sitting together in the front row.
The Classic Brit awards show was at the beginning of October this year. This always gives a good chance to meet plenty of friends whilst waiting for the celebrities to arrive, though the weather and light were somewhat less friendly than May. I was delighted to meet Norma for the first time.
A tip-off from Bernie gave me the opportunity to see the Pavao Quartet for the first time in the magnificent setting of St Martin in the Fields church at Trafalgar Square. The following evening I was in the not so magnificent Hammersmith Apollo to see Katie Melua, but the brilliant concert more than compensated for the somewhat shabby venue.
Much as I had enjoyed hosting Mariette’s concert earlier in the year, the distractions of organization meant that I wasn’t able to enjoy her music to the full. So I set off to Bristol to hear Mariette again in a church in Downend. Being the only outsider in a rather small audience, I felt rather conspicuous but the minister and church members were very welcoming. Mariette was brilliant of course.
A bumper month of music was rounded off by the amazing Raven Quartet in the intimate Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall.
By contrast with October, November had been looking to be a rather barren month for live music, but a late booking for the Royal Festival Hall with the other Benedetti sister and two local events with Phillippa Lusty kept me happy.
December was busy again. The first week saw my first live experience of Faryl singing at my local theatre.
A few days later I was back at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate Christmas with Katherine Jenkins and a long cold wait at the stage door rewarded me with my first ever autographs from Nathan Pacheco and Katherine.
Wonderful as those events were, the occasion to crown the year for me was at the City of London Guildhall, where All Angels were performing as part of the Royal British Legion Christmas event. All Angels (together with Hayley Westenra) created the deepest impression on me when I first turned to music for comfort, and it was they who prompted me to venture my first opinion on any internet forum. It was over two years since I had last seen them live, but those four wonderful voices in harmony still send shivers through me. Best of all though was that, thanks to Daisy’s mum Alice, I got to spend some time with the girls after the show.
My final concert of the year was the lovely ‘Christmas with Cantamus’, together with my son in Nottingham.
I know that I have been name-dropping with a vengeance in my last series of posts, but my intention is not to impress. Rather, it is to express my immense gratitude for those who have been instrumental in filling my life with renewed interest and joy.
But don’t feel that you don’t matter to me if I haven’t mentioned you by name. Nothing could be further from the truth.
At heart I am a very shy person who has always found it difficult to make friends, and I know that is also true for a number of people that I now call friends. Classical crossover really is a friendly genre, from artists to fans alike, and I have been amazed and sometimes overwhelmed by how people have accepted me with all my faults and shown me friendship.
I am fortunate in my location to be able to see so many artists perform live, but my freedom to grasp opportunities at short notice is a mixed blessing.
I guess what I am trying to say is that if even I have gained so much from the friendship that music has brought me, then that friendship is available for everyone. You can still be real friends without ever meeting.
Thank you to all who have followed me so far, and Happy New Year!