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#210 Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

February 9, 2011

By Richard Holmes (Own work) [GFDL (<a href="" class="external free" rel="nofollow"></a>), CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

One of these ones, the lead clarinetist was playing. Or similar. Old school. If you don't know classical music, imagine you're staring at an 808 drum machine instead.

‘Not all orchestras are the same’, the men and women of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment say. It’s different because it’s bottom-up not top-down – instead of having an autocratic conductor they choose pieces by voting for them, and they play authentically traditional instruments. When they’re not touring the world, they’re enjoying being one of the resident orchestras at the South Bank Centre, which is where we saw them last night.
Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream was on the menu, with a bit of Weber, polished off with Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7. ‘That’s not very Age of Enlightenment!” you might say, and you’d be right, but they don’t care.

It sounded like this: blee blee blee, music music music. (Oh, sorry, didn’t I mention? I’m musically illiterate.) But it always amazes me how you can take a bunch of normal humans, each bumbling through life like the rest of us, with dandruff and anger issues and worries about tax bills*, and make it so that when they sit down together as an orchestra, beauty comes out.

Mrs Brown tells me that she found the Mendelssohn a bit twee. But the Weber Clarinet Concerto and most strikingly the Beethoven were gloriously life-affirming and vital. Most importantly, perhaps, the conductor David Zinman looked just like Julie Andrews’ love interest in The Princess Diaries, and the lead clarinetist was a dead ringer for my friend Rob’s dad. I know. Profound, eh?

The tl;dr version: Excellent music played with love and gusto. And their well-written programmes are free. What more can you want?

* I don’t know if any of the OotAoE musicians have anger issues or unpaid taxes, but I was close enough to confirm that their collective shoulder is gloriously dandruff-free.


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