REVIEW : Culm Valley Orchestra at All Saints Church in Dulverton


Sunday afternoon at All Saints church in Dulverton. A buzz of musicians and helpers talking and tuning up. Tea bar busy. Audience arriving. Music creates such a wonderful use for our under-used churches – people coming together to make music and many others supporting and enjoying.

The Culm Valley Orchestra, whose members include a good handful of Exmoor residents, produced another excellent programme for the enthusiastic audience of over 100 people.

Conductor Colin Wills introduced the first item with humour and zest before plunging us into the delights of Rossini’s Overture to Barber of Seville. It was an energetic, familiar and toe-tapping start to the event.

It is wonderful to see a disparate group of local musicians brought together to tackle major works. As we were reminded, there are no auditions and players fit in as best they can, supported by a strong team of experienced musicians. Community orchestras are crucial to the survival of amateur music making, which is threatened by the disgraceful lack of music education in our schools. A whole generation of younger people has missed out on one of the most significant aids to brain development. Contemporary professional orchestras now depend largely on privately educated players for 80% of their membership. To see a community orchestra supporting the development of a fund to increase access to music for the young is heart warming.

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4 in G major provided the highlight of the evening. Soloist Gary Cooper is one of Exmoor’s big surprises. He is now director of music at All Saints, after a career as a multi-prize-winning concert pianist. A quietly diffident, warm and inclusive personality, all those qualities shine through in his playing, such that episodes of frenetic virtuosity come as a delightful shock.

There was a palpable hush as he took his seat. This work begins with fireworks, proceeds, with interludes of fireworks, towards a finale you can dance to. The interludes include cadenzas – where the pianist improvises a solo section to show off technique, much as Beethoven himself would have done. The story of the night is that at the Uffculme concert the night before, he played a shorter and different cadenza. Conductor Colin Wills had no idea when Sunday’s version would end, yet somehow contrived a seamless transition that brought great credit to everyone. It was difficult not to stand up and applaud such excellent, co-operative musicianship.

Exmoor is so lucky to have Gary Cooper and partner Sabine to support and train amateur music makers of all ages and backgrounds. Before playing the concerto he addressed the audience, quietly and enthusiastically, to make it clear that all donations would be going to the fund to help provide financial support, where needed, to children and young people wishing to learn an instrument. The audience responded with gifts totalling £375.

Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony No 8, led by Nigel Atkinson, brought a fine concert to a very pleasing end.

Overall, an excellent programme of uplifting music for a foggy winter Sunday afternoon. Please, let’s have more.

Informal dress does much to convey the message that this is a genuine community orchestra. The orchestra already includes a number of Exmoor residents, including Colin Wills, and there is always a warm welcome to new members. Anyone interested can contact Colin on mail@colinwills.com

For more information about the music fund, please contact marionsilverlock@btinternet.com





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