When my old college friend George Caird told me that he was planning to perform my piece Heroic Strokes of the Bow with an amateur orchestra, my initial thought was “is that wise?” Recently I had shown the score to the conductor of a good student orchestra, and after a while he closed the cover, saying sagely “Sorry,it’s too difficult. Have you got anything else?”
But I’d reckoned without the Oxford Sinfonia, who under George’s encouraging direction, simply threw themselves at the music in last weekend’s concert at Oxford’s University Church. “Heroic” is the very word for the orchestra’s courageous horns, trumpets and violins, its efficient woodwind octet and calm and collected timpanist. Maybe not every note was in exactly the right place, but to my ears the music was more like itself than in some of the measured professional readings I can recall.
Talking of “it’s too difficult”; after Heroic Strokes was over, I had the pleasure of sitting right up front, almost under the soloist’s nose, for the Brahms Violin Concerto. That violin part is a monster (although most ably performed on this occasion by Jan Schmolck). In particular I personally wouldn’t dare to ask a violinist to play so many extensive triple-stopped passages up in front of a loud orchestra. But it’s such a wonderful piece, who cares. That’s the point about musical difficulty; is it worth undergoing? Here, definitely yes.
Pictured; Hannah, daughter of an Oxford Sinfonia member, drew this (please rotate clockwise out of landscape format) while hearing her mum practice her part at home. The music of ‘Heroic Strokes of the Bow’ was inspired by a Paul Klee painting, and it was great to see this (unintentionally) Klee-like response afterwards.