Benjamin P Jackson: ★★★★★ Goldberg Variations at Leeds Town Hall

Benjamin P Jackson, 27 Apr 2019, Benjamin P Jackson


Bach is a sort of omnipresent musical figure as far as I’m concerned - he's responsible for a lot of what we take for granted musically and as a cellist I find that his music is an important part of learning both my instrument and about musical language in general. I’ve definitely enjoyed playing Bach before, but the prospect of going to see 90 solid minutes of Bach played live wouldn’t necessarily have seemed all that appetising. In yesterday’s performance at the Leeds Town Hall, the Manchester Collective demonstrated that given the right kind of love, attention to detail and enthusiasm, the music of Bach can be just as exciting as some of the more contemporary works they’ve performed this season.

The concert began with a brief explanation of the structure and main points of interest of the piece by musical director Rakhi Singh, something which instantly put a smile on my face as so many ensembles would just have launched straight into the music, and if the audience didn’t follow or understand it, they would have let it simply be beyond them. One of the greatest joys of the Manchester Collective is their willingness just to be human beings playing music written by human beings for other human beings, and everything within that is shown great love and attention, but never revered to the point of incomprehension. Singh spoke to us in such an eloquent way, never once insulting the audience’s intelligence while also speaking in a way that was accessible to both those who knew nothing about music and theory, and those which knew a fair amount. Before we even heard the opening aria, we knew what fascinated the musicians most about the music, which meant that as they performed we could share in their personal delight. Having the performers speak about the music beforehand is such a fantastic idea, and many many ensembles could learn from the way the Collective did this.

The performance itself was breathtaking - the music was able to speak for itself, yet the string trio’s energy really highlighted the variety in Bach’s music. Sensitivity turned to excitement, which turned to contemplation all in the space of about 10 minutes, and the journey of the music was clearly mapped out just by the way certain little phrases or parts were emphasised during the playing. Everything seemed so open and honest, and as at the start we were encouraged to use what we now knew about the music to anchor us back into the moment if we drifted away (which we were assured was definitely an OK thing to do) the music always seemed welcoming. This was all extremely refreshing and exciting. The balance between humanity and the beauty of mathematical form was upheld expertly to create a memorable evening which has opened up Bach’s music into a whole new realm of possibilities for me. To unlock music in such a way for an audience by just welcoming them in with a little bit of effort to do things differently works wonders for an entire concert. This is what music should be about.

The Manchester Collective tour with ‘Goldberg Variations’ in Manchester, Salford, Liverpool and Hull until 4th May, and then are back again with ‘Paradise Lost’ on 13th June.