The Velvet Underground and the string quartet: forceful beauty in this season's Coffee Concerts
18 Oct 2016
Brighton writer and journalist Joe Fuller delves into the crossover appeal of chamber music, our Coffee Concert season and the CAVATINA scheme
As someone who grew up loving The Beatles, The Velvet Underground and Radiohead rather than absorbing a classical diet, chamber music stands out as a form that could bridge the pop/classical divide. Chamber music (which features a few musicians instead of a full orchestra) holds crossover appeal because the tunes and individual performances are easier to discern, rather than being swept up in a larger orchestral tumult. It has a similar effect to pop music in which melodies can punch you in the gut or musically lift you.
Brighton Dome's Coffee Concerts (in association with Strings Attached) have played a huge part in fostering my love of classical music, and a huge plus is that people aged between 8-25 can go for free. The CAVATINA scheme subsidises the attendance of young people: you just need to arrange the tickets beforehand at Brighton Dome's or Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts' box office. Further details can be found here.
The next Coffee Concert features popular series stalwarts The Heath Quartet performing in our Concert Hall on Sun 23 Oct at 11am. I've seen them before and loved the gig, enjoying their “gutsy playing”, while The Telegraph praised their “feeling, passion and virtuosity” in a five star review.
It will be fascinating to hear how they tackle three very different string quartets. If I were to compare the Haydn Quartet to my dear The Beatles/The Velvet Underground/Radiohead triumvirate's albums then this piece could represent the A Hard Day's Night/Loaded/The Bends era of the bands' output respectively.
Dvořák's String Quartet No. 13 is the perhaps the most overtly gorgeous, enveloping and accessible piece (in a more modern way than the Haydn) so it could be the Abbey Road/The Velvet Underground & Nico/In Rainbows-style piece of the morning.
Tippett's fifth quartet is the dark, forceful one, although with some overwhelmingly bright flashes that reward repeated listens, so it could be compared to The White Album/White Light-White Heat/Amnesiac. (P.S. I can't mention The White Album without extolling the sublime, transcendent Long, Long, Long: a candidate for the best song by the best band.)
The Coffee Concerts are great for showcasing a breadth of different instruments too, which are fun for bringing different tones and moods to the concert hall. I was enamoured with the Royal College of Music Wind Ensemble earlier this year for example, and the upcoming Amy Harman, Olivier Stankiewicz & Tom Poster concert includes a sweet sonata for bassoon and piano by Camille Saint-Saëns.
If pianos are more your cup of tea then Trio Isimsiz's trio of Piano Trios should be stunning, with Beethoven's famous 'Ghost' piece well worth a listen if you haven't heard it before. Sean Shibe will be playing classical guitar, including the haunting Britten piece Nocturnal after Dowland while Trio Wanderer's performance will feature the short, striking, melancholy Elegie by Dvořák’s pupil Suk. The Castalian Quartet's programme includes one of my favourite string quartet movements ever: the beautiful, lilting second part of Beethoven's String Quartet in F major, op. 59, no. 1.
The remaining concerts after The Heath Quartet will take place in the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (at the University of Sussex in Falmer) while the Corn Exchange is being refurbished as part of the Dome's exciting transformation project. There is free parking at the ACCA and frequent buses there (such as 23, 25, 28 and 29): you could even schedule in a Stanmer Park walk after the concert to make more of a day out of it. You can find out more about ACCA here.
I cannot recommend the Coffee Concerts highly enough: they're a brilliant fusion of world class performances and thrilling music, while also being a fun way to spend a Sunday morning. If you're aged between 8 to 25 then you can go for free, or general tickets are only £16-£18.50. You can also imbibe tea, coffee or cake in the interval as a culinary counterpoint to the gripping melodies.