The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Facing the Cultural Olympiad music

Posted by rowingvoice on June 30, 2012

Henley-on-Thames, Friday 29 June 2012

Henley Symphony Orchestra gave a Regatta concert at St Mary’s Church on Wednesday which, says their programme, is part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The HSO ranks among the best amateur  orchestras in the country, and their rendition of Eric Coates’s ‘Oxford Street’, Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, Vangelis’s ‘Chariots of Fire’ and Orlando Gough’s Olympic-commissioned overture ‘Traditional Values’ (that included a movement called ‘Brollie Bits’) was superb — even if parts of Gough’s work sounded like a muster in a bluster at the Barrier.

The hymn sheet tells you where the Cultural Olympiad is coming from — the last night of the Proms. ‘Chariots of Fire’ is rousingly Olympic, OK, but this must be an opportunity missed for a concert within a bugle call of the 1908 and 1948 Olympic course. Where is Handel and his Water Musick? Where is the Willowing Sway of the Hands Away? Where is the music hall songs of the scullers of coaly Tyne? Where is ‘Row, Row your boat, Gently down the stream’? Where is the theme tune from ‘Bert and Dickie’?

The programme at St Mary’s was extracted from the HSO’s concert  at Shiplake College on the previous Sunday that also included  Tchaikovsky’s 1812. Too bad they didn’t bring this to the church, because on the first day of the 1908 Olympic regatta the Russian composer’s glorious clash of canon and bells was played on the riverbank opposite Leander, where competitors were no doubt enjoying a libation. I expect the crew from St. Petersburg University would have enjoyed that . Pity the Cultural Olympiad seems to be concerned only with pomp while knowing nothing about circumstance.

Christopher Dodd


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