Monday, December 1, 2014

What It's Like To ... Perform at Cadogan Hall

Of all the classical music venues in London, Cadogan Hall is by far my favorite. Based just off Sloane Square, in the middle of swanky Chelsea, it's not the easiest to get to for me,  but I've seen some of my favorite musicians perform here, including violinist Joshua Bell, plus a very memorable concert that I took my mom to when she was visting a few years ago, featuring the brilliant cellist Julian Lloyd Webber.

So, not only do I have incredibly fond memories of Cadogan Hall - I've also always wanted to perform there. The intimacy of the venue (it's not huge, but the terrific acoustics mean that you can sit at the very back of the house and catch the quietest of notes) and the fact that their resident orchestra is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (my favorite British symphony orchestra) are the reasons why it's the classical music venue I visit most in London.

It's funny: some people aspire to play at Carnegie Hall (as my super talented brother did), or the Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican ... but for me, it's always been Cadogan. And this weekend, my wish came true when I signed in at the stage door.

As many of you know, I've been a violinist with the Royal Orchestral Society - London's oldest non-professional orchestra (with its royal ties dating back to its founding in 1872 by the Duke of Edinburgh) - for over 5 years. Yesterday, we performed Benjamin Britten's War Requiem with the London Chorus, the choristers of St. John the Divine, Kennington (who were adorable, if not just a little squirmy - I can't imagine being that age and having to sit still for that long!), and our incredible soloists, Geraldine McGreevy, James Gilchrist, and Ashley Riches.

If you're not familiar with the piece, it's an extremely powerful, large-scale setting of the requiem mass composed by Britten (who was, famously, a pacifist), which features the traditional Latin texts (sung by the chorus) interspersed by Wilfred Owen's moving war poems (sung by the soloists).  It was originally performed for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral after it had been bombed and destroyed during World War II, but several performances took place just recently to mark the centenary of the WWI and Remembrance Day.  As a whole, it can be a difficult piece to wrap your ears around at first, but if you get a chance, have a listen to the first movement, "Requiem", and also the "Offertorium" (which is my favorite). There are definitely many spine-tingling and tear-inducing moments throughout.

When I arrived at our dress rehearsal yesterday afternoon, this was my view from the side of stage right: no pressure* (*except for the fact that I discovered my dress had a rather noticeable hole in it, on the side that faced the audience, who were sitting just a few feet away from me. I can hear my mom tutting at me from 5,000 miles away. Note to self: buy a new black dress).

I've sat in the audience many times before, but being on the stage (and in this particular seat!) was an incredible experience. When the seating plan for this concert was circulated, I excitedly forwarded it on to my parents. My dad's response? "PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE." Ugh, Dad. Why do you have to be such a ... dad?

On my way to the dressing room, I saw the ushers being briefed a few moments before the concert and we all waited in the stairwell to enter the stage - I was excited and nervous. The seats were surprisingly full, which was wonderful, as it's never fun to play to an empty or semi-empty house!

John managed to snap this photo of me and my standpartner consulting moments before the concert began ...

... and this photo as well, which is one of my favorite parts of performing in an orchestra: that moment before the conductor (who was, in this case, Orlando Jopling) lifts his baton. It's a moment that requires a lot of gathering of energy and focus, especially if you're visible to the audience like me! Thoughts running through my head at this moment: is the hole in my dress showing? Did I accidentally bring my phone on stage? Is there something on my back that no one told me about? WHAT AM I DOING?!

I laughed when I saw this photo because our posture is impeccable ... whereas in rehearsal, I'll slouch, sit back in my chair, or cross my legs whenever I have a break between playing. I know it's a bad habit, but rehearsing straight after work for 2.5 hours is tiring!

It was lovely to have Alison and John in the audience. John hasn't missed a concert so far and always offers to carry my violin case for me afterwards - it's very sweet. :) I was sad that my parents and my brother (who's also a violinist - not to mention an extremely talented percussionist and guitarist and songwriter) couldn't come to this performance, but John got a couple of clips on his phone so I can show them when I'm back for Christmas.

One last look at the hall before we left ...

Are you a classical music fan? Which concerts have you been to lately? Would you like to, but don't know where to start? Let me know - I'll find an event for you!


  1. Congrats on performing at your dream venue! I was there -- alllllll the way in the back on the upper level. Like you said, the acoustics there are great, so it really doesn't matter where you sit. I would've stayed to say "hi" but I needed to catch the train home :/ But you all were excellent! I was so impressed with the children who sang (they really did keep it together rather well, despite a bit of squirming, hahaha). I wonder how many of them will continue for the rest of their lives.

    1. Gianni! I can't believe you were there - that's amazing! Thank you so much for coming!!! I wish I could have said 'hi' to you afterwards! I hope you enjoyed it. :)

  2. What an amazing experience!!! Isn't it incredible when you have those moments when a dream comes through? You just want to pinch yourself and then immediately do it all again once its over :)

    1. Yes, definitely! I like to "re-live" memories in my mind. I was concentrating so hard during the performance, that I didn't get to enjoy it as much as I would have liked to, so I'm just savouring the memory now! :)


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