[Back to Index page] Index

The Durham Concerto

Durham Cathedral

20 October 2007

The Durham Concerto
Jon Lord

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mischa Damev

Jon Lord, Hammond Organ
Matthew Barley, cello
Ruth Palmer, violin
Kathryn Tickell, Northumbrian pipes

I've never been to a concert that had so many speeches before it started. And I've certainly never been to one that had a prayer before it started. But then, I've never been to a concert in a cathedral before...

So it seems like a good idea to talk about the venue first. I've always said that Durham Cathedral is, without any doubt at all, the best cathedral I've ever been in. Now I also think it's the best-sounding concert venue I've ever been in. I can't really describe what's special about the sound quality in it. There's just something special about the way you feel the music, the way it fills up the space, like... no, honestly, I can't put it into words. It's just amazing.

Some negative points about the venue: first, it's got the most uncomfortable seats ever created. After an hour, those benches are really hard on the nether regions! Secondly, it's flat. The orchestra isn't on any form of raised platform (it seems) and so all I could see was the heads of the soloists at the front and percussionists standing up at the back. It shouldn't really matter, but I like to watch what people are doing. At the end I didn't really know who I was applauding as I couldn't see who was taking the bows.

So although I had a decent seat (middle of the nave, right behind the VIP section) I could have been anywhere and it wouldn't have made a difference.

I can't even begin to guess at the audience size but it was very full with hardly an empty seat that I could see, and with a huge cross section of ages and modes of dress. I don't know how many were Jon Lord (Deep Purple) fans and how many were just classical music fans but I would guess that the latter predominated.

The Durham Concerto was the only piece played and it lasts approximately an hour. It seems to me that "concerto" is a misnomer. It's more like a suite of connected pieces with some solo parts, rather than something specifically built around the solo instruments. It's in six parts, with each one representing a part of a day in Durham. And if you've read the programme notes, you really can hear what each part claims to represent — the morning section does make you think of a sunrise and early birdsong, then the sounds of the town waking up, and so on.

It begins with strings playing the "rhythm section" to the trumpets (very Sibelius) and moves into a beautiful cello tune that I think is repeated several times over the course of the music. There are themes established early on that seem to be repeated throughout — or, at least, there are parts later on that sound very familiar and you realise you think you heard them in a previous movement... sorry, I can only be vague about it. Already, just a day later, the exact details have fled from my mind.

What? Was it really so instantly forgettable? Well... no... but yes... I knew as soon as it had finished that I was going to forget most of it. Even though I loved it as it was being played, it isn't the sort of music that lodges itself in your mind after a single listen. There are many beautiful moments, but there is no obvious "hook". There are too many elements, too many tunes that segue one into the other, for any one to stand out. There are repeated motifs but there is nothing you can come away humming (the exception being the folk tune, but that's only because I've heard it many times before). That doesn't detract from the music as you listen to it, but it does mean that it is music you need to hear many times before you're "comfortable" with it, if that makes sense.

So, rather than try to describe the whole thing, I'll just point to a few elements.

The Hammond Organ — it is used in a very minor role, only really noticeable in parts of the fifth (fast) section. When it plays, it's unmistakable Jon Lord (I wonder what the musical notation for "rrrrrrrrrrrrr" is?) but anyone who went expressly to hear Jon play Hammond again will have been disappointed.

The pipes — I absolutely love the sound of the Northumbrian pipes. Here, Jon uses them in a solo role to incorporate the traditional Northumbrian tune "Bonnie at Morn". (I think I'm being stalked by this tune; I seem to be hearing it everywhere recently.) Then later they are accompanied with the orchestra and the two sounds — to my surprise — meld beautifully well.

It's definitely a modern-sounding (but not "modernist") piece of music, it's extremely tuneful and melodic, it shows all the influences that fans of Jon Lord will have heard before, and it really sounds like a piece of "Jon Lord music". Beyond that, I'm not sure what else to say. I enjoyed it immensely for the fleeting hour it lasted and I'm looking forward to getting the CD and learning it all over again.

I really hope this made sense to somebody...

[Back to Index page] Index