Last day at Nelson. Bickerton with kids and Riseley with Paganini

Adam Chamber Music Festival. Saturday Music at Nelson. Bob Bickerton with Kid’s Concert; Riseley plays Paganini Caprices

Nelson School of Music and St John’s church


Saturday 12 February 10am and 1pm


Bob Bickerton is a multi-talented musician, a composer as well as a versatile, gifted performer on many instruments, he has been heavily involved in bringing music to children and young people over the past couple of decades. I went along to see him in action on Saturday morning. He and his boxes of instruments were on the stage while his audience was on the tiers of seats behind the stage.  


Naturally, he has an engaging personality, likely to catch and hold children’s attention. And he did – most of the time; though in spite of what I thought were entertaining anecdotes and observations, quite a few of the children were inattentive. Might one suppose that the floods of highly coloured, endlessly energetic, violent, visually exciting stuff on television and DVDs has so inured them to ordinary people telling them things without high-speed histrionics, that it fails to engage them.


Bickerton began by demonstrating how blown instruments produce their sounds, starting with a milk bottle and progressing to pipes and flutes and reeds; then the effects of causing taut strings to vibrate when plucked or stroked with horse hair. Then he played examples of music from various countires, on various instruments, with humour and considerable skill.  


I would be surprised if a higher proportion of children than of adults become really engrossed by music. Nevertheless, I’m sure that in

the climate in which most children find themselves today, it is easier for most to escape any real exposure to ‘good’ music than ever before. As with many things, most significantly languages and poetry, unless minds and memories are furnished with music by adolescence, it might escape them altogether.


Paganini Caprices Op 1
Martin Riseley played the entire 24 of Paganini’s Caprices at 1pm. Always a formidable task, this was a very considerable feat. He had decided to take his time with them by pausing for applause after each and by talking briefly about each beforehand, and he took short breaks after each six. This probably added fifteen or twenty minutes to the recital. There were a few departures after the halfway mark.


It is easy to hear them as mere displays of bravura and party tricks. But in reality the tricks are modest and limited in comparison to the hair-raising stunts that became common later in the 19th century. It’s not profound and soul-searing music such as might be found in the Bach solo sonatas and partitas, but I believe that if you listen open-eared without letting comparisons with his contemporaries like Beethoven or Weber, Schubert or Rossini distract you, there is musical substance and an inventive musical mind that has created interesting and enjoyable music. Some do seem somewhat empty, but far more seem to have considerable merit, such as numbers 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 18 and 24 of course.


His performances were not flawless, but it was an enjoyable if unnecessarily long recital of one of the more uncommon chefs d’oeuvres in the violin literature.


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