Music: Review: Beethoven In The Dark, Bristol Proms

Meena Alexander, July 28, 2015

The third Bristol Proms, a weeklong celebration of world-class musicians that opened yesterday evening at Bristol Old Vic, is known for its commitment to making classical music as exciting and accessible as possible. 

As a newbie to the genre I had no idea what to expect from my first Proms experience, but I resolved to enter the packed-out studio at the Old Vic with an open mind. Artistic director Tom Morris gave a short introduction to the Sacconi Quartet, and his seemingly genuine excitement immediately tipped me off that these guys were a big deal. 

The quartet took to the stage, situated in the centre of the 360-degree audience which was fizzing with the kind of respectful anticipation you’d never see at a pop concert. As the lights went down I prepared myself. I may not know much about classical performances, but I knew the general drill: the lights would come up, the musicians would ready their music and the show would begin.

Except the lights never came up. Apart from the odd dim spotlight or eerie floor illumination, the musicians played in complete darkness. I hadn’t realised how literal the show’s title was, because I didn’t realise it was humanly possible to play forty minutes of complex composition entirely from memory.

The result of this impressive feat was my total captivation. I thoroughly enjoyed the immersive experience of hearing and seeing nothing but music, and when I did catch the odd glimpse of a vibrating string or furrowed brow it just seemed to add to the mystery even further. 

The Sacconi Quartet’s talent is pretty spectacular, whether you know your classical musicians or not, but the thing that surprised me most was how much their playing made me enjoy the piece itself.

It was obvious that these four not only knew Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Opus 131 inside out, but also understood it. In moments of dim lighting their facial expressions and exchanged looks explained that this was a conversation – one that we were lucky to be privy to.

Humming rhythms from the show all the way home, I decided I was a classical music convert. The simplicity of the performance left me satisfied in a way many pyrotechnic extravaganzas I’ve seen in the past did not – and the Sacconi Quartet is certainly not a name I am likely to forget.

Bristol Proms runs from Monday, July 27 to Saturday, August 1. Find full listings at www.bristololdvic.org.uk.

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