Last Saturday I drove up to Scarborough to play with Scarborough Symphony Orchestra. My dad was free that day and so was able to accompany me and make a day of it, which was lovely.
Upon arrival I found the gates of the car park were padlocked – I guess that’s the reward for arriving early and in plenty of time. I managed to find the caretaker and asked him to unlock the gates for me. Once inside I then had the task of finding some guys to help heave my harp up the stairs into the main part of the church (Methodist Hall, Queen Street).
I saw several other freelancers that I know from other Yorkshire gigs, not surprisingly they all knew my dad who has done a lot of conducting in and around York over the past 40 years.
The concert began with Brigg Fair by Delius – the same piece that I played the week before in Lincolnshire – coincidence??? yea, probably. Although this year would have been his 150th birthday if my maths is correct. It’s a lovely piece.
This was followed by Vaughan Williams’ Concerto for Bass Tuba, played by Shaun Matthew – the conductor of the rest of the concert. I’d never heard it before and tuba concertos (concerti?) are very rare. It was as virtuosic as I’ve ever heard a tuba played and obviously showed great skill – what else would you expect from an ex-RNCM student?
After the interval was William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 2 entitled ‘Song of a New Race’. It is believed that this concert was in fact the UK premier of this work, despite the fact that it was first performed in America all the way back in 1937. I’d never even heard of the composer and yet it is argued by some that, while Gershwin was studying under Still, he allegedly pinched the melody of ‘I Got Rhythm’ from one of Still’s compositions. Now that’s good gossip.
The Symphony itself was really enjoyable, well written in terms of the harp, and also fun to listen to. Especially the upbeat third movement.
I can’t really describe the composer better than in the concert programme, so here I am quoting Frank James:
“He was a remarkable man, who achieved a whole series of ‘firsts’. He was the first Afro-American to have a symphony performed by a major symphony orchestra, the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the States … as well as the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the ‘Deep South’ and the first to conduct an all-white radio orchestra in New York. He was the first Afro-American to have an opera produced by a major company in the US, and the first to have an opera televised over a national network. All this was back in the 40s and 50s, at a time when strict segregation was still the rule in the States…”
So I feel honoured to have played in the first UK performance of this piece, and I hope it will be the first of many. There are recordings available on Naxos and it’s well worth a listen. Trust me.