Thoroughly Good

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Music: Nelson John Webb Royal Academy of Music Spitalfields Festival

I had a lunchtime treat last week. I didn’t tell anyone. And I didn’t share the opportunity either.

I went on a lunchtime trip to the Royal Academy of Music for a lunchtime world premiere of – what was it, a cantata or a semi-staged mini-opera? – Nelson.

A ten minute tube journey to observe a singer from the Royal Academy of Music done up in an 18th century costume, playing the part of a lonely Horatio Nelson looking down on Trafalgar Square from his column, feeling rather sorry for himself.

Minutes later, a thunderstorm – depicted by an army of smartly dressed and excited looking local schoolchildren – sees lightning strike Nelson’s Column, freeing our hero from his shackles and giving him a chance to explore the city he loves. A city very different from the memory he had of it when he was alive.

This was a gloriously fantastical story – Nelson tackles the advances in transportation by opting to fly around the capital hanging on to a helicopter – made plausible because of the presence of so many local schoolkids, themselves collaborators in John Webb’s work.

This was their moment – their formative moment – a moment I rather hope will remain with them for years to come, just as I recall the first time I saw the local county youth orchestra play in a school hall during an afternoon when I’d normally be forced to be playing rugby. Money from a variety of sources including the Royal Academy of Music and Spitalfields Festival made this possible. The kids helped created a handful of movements from the work. They got to sing, act and clap their way through a beautifully simple and escapist story. The score – played by musicians from RAM – was actually pretty gripping too.

It was a real pleasure to witness, especially because there were only a handful of us there to watch it. An indulgence.

If there is a lasting memory of this world premiere (not recorded – not documented), it is the timely lyric repeated over and over again by the chorus of children in Duke’s Hall that lunchtime.

London is the place to be.
London is the place for me.

This might be the musical moment which signals my interest in London 2012. Maybe. There is something irresistibly adorable about the sight of so many children having unbridled fun, relishing their important moment. Not least because you them repeatedly enthuse about a city I often find myself getting frustrated by.

A moment I only hope that lasts with them long into adulthood.

Much respect to Julian West at the bunch of musicians from Royal Academy of Music, so too composer John Webb and the various animateurs and helpers who made this special event special. So too¬†Ruxandra Mateiu who took the lovely pictures. There’s a blog from behind the scenes at rehearsals on the Spitalfields Festival site whose 2012 season has tickets available too.¬†

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Jon Jacob • February 14, 2012


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