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I’ve never been a fan of the new year celebrations – it feels a bit of an arbitrary feast to me and there’s only so much Jools Hootenanny one can take (or Viennese waltzes for that matter). However, it’s a good time to take stock, to focus on the year that’s been and look ahead to what may be to come. Happily when doing this, it seems to me that the world of classical music is in especially good health. The past few years have seen at least three new world class concert halls built in our patch – the Apex in Bury, the Hoffmann building at Snape and most recently the Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden. All three regularly play host to high class classical concerts and – crucially – these concerts regularly sell out.
For example, I could tell you about Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields playing Schumann, Beethoven and Brahms at the Saffron Hall this month, but you’d be looking in vain for tickets. The same applies to Nicola Benedetti’s appearance with the CBSO at the end of this month which sold out weeks ago. Incidentally, I was told recently that the Saffron Hall has almost been too successful, as it’s regularly booked out by top London based classical recording producers and record labels in between the regular live events. Increasingly, I will have to look further ahead in this column, especially at events like the Snape Proms where tickets for the top events can sell out within days of being made available.
So, with all of this interest, has the “elitist” tag that so often seems to be attached to classical music started to disappear? To an extent, yes, although it still seems to be there in some people’s minds … I suspect that may diminish if they tried the live concert experience for themselves. Sometimes, the venues themselves don’t help (we’ve probably all experienced an over-fussy usher at some point), although recent outreach work carried out by both orchestras and festival organisers has to be hugely beneficial. Remember the marvellous orchestral concert in an Ipswich multi-storey car park as part of the 2015 Aldeburgh Festival?
By and large, the media is supportive and will give good coverage of local events, although I still detect a slight unease at the radio station I work for when it comes to playing a complete piece of classical music. In fact, on your BBC local radio station, you can hear specialist programmes programmes featuring jazz, country, rock’n’roll and – bizarrely – Northern Soul, but not a note of classical. A regional arts programme which could be widened to include our rich theatrical scene would be wonderful, but I suspect the money may not be there for that. Nonetheless, an hour or two of classical music which also made mention of the local scene would be most welcome.
I’ll finish by taking my own advice and telling you about an event in February which is already selling fast. The strings of the aforementioned Academy of St Martin in the Fields present an eclectic mix of Bach, Elgar, Tchaikovsky and Britten on the 17th February at the Apex. It’s just one of a handful of good looking concerts taking place in Bury St Edmunds that month, so a trip online to find out more is a must. In fact, during these dark winter nights, why not spend a bit of time researching and planning a few concert outings? Sounds like the perfect new year resolution to me.