Durham Concerto in Liverpool, reviewed

Jon Lord appeared with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for another performance of the Durham Concerto on April 5 in Liverpool (Philharmonic Hall). Read the reviews below in the comments and feel free to contribute your own review of the concert.

The Durham Concerto was released on CD on January 28th (Avie Records).


5 thoughts on “Durham Concerto in Liverpool, reviewed

  1. Our first visit to the city of Liverpool and the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Proceedings started at 6.30pm when Jon, Michael Nyman and his marimba soloist Colin Currie took part in a question and answer session hosted by the BBC’s Angela Heslop. Among the topics discussed were Jon’s reminiscences of his first encounters with classical music, the success of The Concerto for Group and Orchestra and his ideas behind the Durham Concerto. As he explains in the CD notes, he envisaged a fictional day in the life of Durham, emphasising that the music must have a satisfactory ending, a concept with which Nyman later disagreed!

    The first half of the concert featured the premier of Nyman’s gdm for marimba and orchestra (gdm refers to Ken Livingstone’s comment that only a, “Ghastly Dehumanised Moron” would deprive Londoners of the Routemaster bus) followed by James MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No.2.

    Colin Currie’s marimba playing (for almost the entire 20 min of the piece) has to be admired and the piece of music definitely warrants further listening. However, I cannot say the same about MacMillan’s piece. Joanna MacGregor was required to hammer her grand piano into submission, in a manner usually associated with Keith Emerson! However, to her credit, Ms MacGregor returned to the stage and performed a short encore that showed off her talents as a wonderful concert pianist.

    And so to the interval and a well deserved and very reasonably priced cup of tea and coffee (£0.80 and £1)!

    For the Durham Concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mischa Damev, Jon’s Hammond organ was centrally placed, with Ruth Palmer (violin) and Jonathan Aasgaard (cello) to his right and Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes) to his left. To quote the CD notes, “Ruth Palmer brings glamour….to the concert stage”, and she certainly made a visual impression, tall and slim in a full length white dress, in contrast to the sombre black of the rest of the orchestra. In contrast to the earlier pieces, Jon had the entire orchestra on stage with him and all parts made a glorious contribution throughout the 49 minutes.

    For me, The Durham Concerto is Jon’s finest piece of orchestral music to date and the non-orchestral instruments blend in as if they ought to be there. The soloists were all excellent, but particularly Palmer and Aasgaard who gave it everything. Jon’s solos were rare, but still sent shivers up your spine. After the event, there was the opportunity to meet Jon as he autographed CDs and this put the icing on the cake for me and many others. However, the evening belonged to the music and to all the wonderful musicians that had brought Jon’s vision of a day in Durham to life.

  2. Michael Nyman, gdm for marimba and orchestra
    Clark Rundell, conductor
    Colin Currie, marimba

    James MacMillan, Piano Concerto No. 2
    Clark Rundell, conductor
    Joanna MacGregor, piano

    Encore: Astor Piazolla, Libertango (solo piano)
    Joanna MacGregor, piano

    Jon Lord, Durham Concerto
    Mischa Damev, conductor
    Jon Lord, Hammond organ
    Ruth Palmer, violin
    Jonathan Aasgaard, cello
    Kathryn Tickell, Northumbrian pipes

    Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

    About an hour before the concert itself, there was a 30-minute interview with Michael Nyman, Jon Lord, and Colin Currie in the main auditorium. It was reasonably entertaining and I was surprised to see that only a small fraction of the concert audience attended it, considering it was free to ticket holders!

    The concert itself was nowhere near a sell-out. Half the circle was empty and I could see scattered empty seats in the stalls. Listening to people talk, I gathered that half the audience were Deep Purple fans and the other half were Classic FM listeners (CFM has been heavily plugging the Durham Concerto since its release). With that audience, I think the programme was badly thought out. Nobody that I overheard was there to hear the Nyman or MacMillan pieces. So the people who have been Jon Lord fans for years would have gone anyway, no matter what else was on the programme, and the casual Classic FM punters probably stayed at home because there was no Lark Ascending or Hovis Advert Symphony, or anything else they knew. (I also thought it was odd to choose three pieces of music that had such big and unwieldy solo instruments (marimba, piano, Hammond organ), requiring considerable stage rearrangement between each piece.

    Oh well. What do I know about concert promotion? On with the music (which I also know nothing about…)

    Michael Nyman sounded like he was on the same wavelength as Jon Lord in his approach to music, and after hearing him talk I was quite keen on hearing gdm. I don’t know anything else by the composer, but this sounded cool.

    Well, ok, I actually found it a bit tedious. It had some great moments — generally whenever the marimba introduced a new theme — but then those themes repeated and repeated and generally overstayed their welcome. Perhaps it had some clever structure going on but I couldn’t see it. I didn’t exactly hate it but I can’t see myself rushing to listen to it again.

    I didn’t know James MacMillan’s Piano Concerto but I’ve generally disliked everything I’ve heard from the composer so I wasn’t expecting great things.

    In fact, it was fantastic. I don’t know if it’s that I’m more receptive to modern music these days, or if it’s just that music really should be listened to live, or what, but I was captivated for the entire 30 minutes. The Piano Concerto is unconventional, dissonant, chaotic, hard to follow, and absolutely marvellous.

    How to describe it? Parts of it reminded me of (don’t laugh) Yes, where you get a rhythmic, chaotic band passage stopping dead to give way to a quiet, reflective piano solo. It’s got half-familiar Scottish themes running through it, including a jig (or is it a reel?) where the pianist turns around and plays a snare drum! There are beautiful parts where the music is almost lyrical… then it goes completely off it again…

    And Joanna MacGregor is incredible. I’ve never heard (or seen) piano playing quite like it. She also played a (well-deserved) encore piece: Piazzolla’s Libertango. Which is… quite literally… indescribable. I would go and see her again, playing music like this.

    By the interval I was well pleased.

    But I freely admit that I was only there to hear the Durham Concerto for the second time, and I got more than my money’s worth in the second half of the concert. It was even better the second time round. But I’ll try to forget that Jon Lord has been my musical idol for my entire adult life, and give an unbiased view of the concert.

    As I mentioned to Jon (*cough* name dropping) after the show, the atmosphere of the Cathedral wasn’t there. Philharmonic Hall is nice enough but there’s no way it can match Durham Cathedral as a building. But as he quite rightly responded, what the Hall loses in atmosphere it more than makes up for in acoustics and sound clarity. It doesn’t have the enveloping reverb of the Cathedral but I’m sure that the clean, precise sound in the Hall was a lot closer to what the composer wanted us to hear. Every solo instrument stood out perfectly and I heard a lot of new subtleties (particularly from the organ, which plays a bigger role that was first apparent).

    (There was an annoying hiss from the auditorium’s right-hand speaker stack all through in the first half of the concert but this had been cured by the second half. I Assume they didn’t need the PA for Jon’s music!)

    Familiarity with the music also helps. When you know what’s coming next, what you’re hearing now makes a lot more sense. (Does that make sense?)

    And finally, I was in a perfect seat to watch the orchestra — centre of the front row of the circle, so I could look down on the entire orchestra. It’s much more interesting to see who is doing what, and that was impossible in the Cathedral.

    It’s true, great music really should be heard live.

    So overall the second listening was definitely worth the trip. I’m already looking forward to a third, and many more.

    Do I need to describe the music? I don’t think I can… from the first notes to the last crescendo, it’s beautiful. There are recurring themes that tie the movements together. The violin solo parts are exquisite. The percussion is as dramatic as you would expect from a man who spent 35 years in the world’s greatest rock band. There’s a beautiful harp contribution that I never even noticed before. And there’s a Hammond organ.

    Why is there a Hammond organ? It’s not exactly a conventional orchestral instrument. There has to be a more compelling reason for including it than because it’s “the composers instrument”. The Northumbrian pipes — yes, essential to the concept of the music. But the Hammond organ?

    The piece has, effectively, six movements. The traditional three movements of a concerto are each divided into two distinct parts. This means that there are two slow movements.

    Think about this for a minute. After the tension of a slow concerto movement, you need the release of the big finale to balance things out. Jon’s structure means that after the achingly beautiful violin-led slow third movement, you get an even slower fourth movement, and this one features long solos from the most melancholic instrument in the orchestra — the cello. By the time it’s all done, and you’ve been listening to 20 minutes of this quiet, introspective music, you’re wound up so tight that you need something to let your breath out again…

    And then the fifth movement starts and you hear:


    And that’s why there’s a Hammond organ. Nothing else could have done it. It’s the most joyous sound on the planet, and the whole orchestra responds with the most uplifting, foot-tapping, scherzo sort of thing that… well, for me, this movement makes the whole piece. From the organ swell to the dance tune, to the bombastic horn tune, to the drunken bassoon player (!), all underpinned by thunderous marching-band percussion — the movement seems blatantly inspired by Malcolm Arnold (I’m sure Jon won’t mind me saying that), and it’s pure listening perfection. If I had to hold up one thing to show people that Jon Lord really knows how to put music together, it would be this movement.

    Then it’s all over, and the smallpipes lead us into the beautiful finale.

    It’s music that makes me want to hear it all again immediately.

    That’s all I can say. It’s not much like usual reviews but I don’t really know how to write about classical music.

    After the show Jon sat out and signed CDs for what seemed like an hour. He didn’t just sign and move on — for every person, he shook their hand and found something to say to them.

    A real gentleman.

    Thank you.

  3. The concert at Liverpool couldn’t have been better timed. With Lord’s most recent release of his earlier composition ‘Boom Of The Tingling Strings’ the week before, witnessing the live performance of the Durham Concerto for the second time, I couldn’t help but feel that it was an honour to hear and see the composer performing his own piece with the orchestra and other soloists.

    I am in no doubt that Lord can now be recognised as one of England’s finest living composers. His style, and in particular the Durham Concerto masterpiece are quintessentially as English as cricket on the village green but twice as picturesque.

    This performance benefitted particularly from the hall’s acoustics and even during some of the moments where both orchestra and soloist played together the soloists parts were still highly distinguishable, most notably Kathryn Tickell’s Northumbrian pipes and Lord’s own Hammond organ playing.

    The first half of the concert had consisted of interesting works by Michael Nyman and James MacMillan that were well received, but evidence that Lord’s Concerto outshone them was born out by the standing ovation the performance received.

    I am in no doubt that the popularity of this work will continue to grow with each performance, and every accolade bestowed upon the composer is thoroughly deserved.

  4. MUSIC REVIEW: RLPO, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

    Apr 8 2008 by Glyn Mon Hughes, Liverpool Daily Post

    The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra perform at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

    IT WAS another of those occasions at the Philharmonic where the audience is treated to something new, something unusual – and certainly something challenging.

    Jon Lord’s Durham Concerto is one of the favoured pieces on Classic FM’s present playlist, while Michael Nyman – he of The Piano and many other film scores – was also featured in the concert. Add to that James MacMillan’s Second Piano Concerto and this was certainly a performance to be remembered. The RLPO also evidently enjoyed themselves, conducted by Clark Rundell for the first half, with Mischa Damev conducting the Lord piece.

    Nyman’s gdm for marimba and orchestra was receiving its UK premiere. Soloist Colin Currie certainly had his work cut out. The reduced wood- wind, sparse in places, seemed to have been used to add to the tonal colour – and to great eff- ect. In some ways, the heavy string orchestration rather swamped the marimba, yet the pairing of the solo instrument with pizzicato cello and bass, as well as legato super strings, worked well.

    MacMillan’s concerto was very intense and experimental: the reels and new influences cros- sed well with new tech- niques. Soloist Joanna MacGregor was fully en- gaged with the orchestra, and obviously simply enjoyed the performance.

    Lord’s Durham Concerto set off some beautiful melodies in all three parts of the piece, and all facets of the orchestra and organ were used to the full.


  5. Hi Jon,

    Just now I am listening to our national classical radiostaion Radio4 and they played The Road from Lindisfarne………Beautiful!!!!
    I,ve been a Purple-fan all my life, and a fan of classical music the last 10 years or so.Did,nt know about the Durham Concerto at all, till now….:))
    Compliments to you and your musicians, what a wonderfull music.
    All the best from Holland,

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