Guest blog: The Northern Chamber Orchestra – Mind Music

In early April 2016, the Northern Chamber Orchestra enjoyed another collaboration with the Artistic Director of the Buxton Festival, Stephen Barlow, but this time there were no operas involved. The orchestra performed a concert in the Martin Harris Centre of the University of Manchester to raise funds for Parkinson’s U.K. and then spent two days recording a C.D., all proceeds from which will go to Parkinson’s. The C.D. will be released by Divine Arts in the autumn.

Like so many good ideas ‘MIND MUSIC’ came about from a conversation in a pub. Lynsey Marsh and myself were enjoying a post-concert drink after a performance with the Hallé Orchestra. We were talking about our recent shared experience of losing a parent to complications with Parkinson’s. After seeing our loved ones struggle so bravely with this debilitating illness we felt the need to take positive action, and it seemed the most logical path to use our talents to raise funds by making music.

At that time I was preparing for a performance of a work for solo clarinet and ensemble by John Adams called ‘Gnarly Buttons’. The inspiration behind this piece was the composer’s experience of dealing with his own father’s decline from Alzheimer’s disease. Further research uncovered other compositions which had a connection to healthcare issues, particularly related to neurodegenerative disease and ‘MIND MUSIC’ was born. We had a charming and varied programme including; Richard Strauss – Sonatina for wind ‘From an Invalid’s Workshop’, Mendelssohn’s Konzertstuck No. 1 for Clarinet, Basset-Horn and orchestra, John Adams – ‘Gnarly Buttons’ and Kevin Malone’s ‘Last Memory’ for clarinet and digital delay.

We all had a very enjoyable 5 days, rehearsing and performing at the university and then recording at St Thomas’ in Stockport. The church’s proximity to the flightpath to Manchester airport and some enthusiastic street cleaning slowed us down somewhat, but good humour was maintained throughout!

The Northern Chamber Orchestra first worked with Stephen Barlow at the Buxton Festival of 2010 then, in his first year as Artistic Director he really threw down the musical gauntlet to the orchestra, programming Richard Strauss’ opera Intermezzo as well as the ’Sonatina for wind’. Challenging repertoire.

Our collaborations with Stephen, over the years have always been rewarding, combining good humour and patience with demanding music-making in a wide range of styles and we are looking forward very much this year to tackling Beethoven for the first time.

With very best wishes,

Liz Jordan Clarinet

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