Classics in the Park?

I was bewildered this morning to get up and read a glowing review of last night’s concert in the Liverpool Echo. Because Sarah and I were there and didn’t feel remotely ‘glowing’ about it all.

It all sounded great. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra playing for free in Sefton Park on a summer’s evening as part of the Liverpool International Music Festival. What’s not to like about anticipating that?

Well, approaching the Park it starts to feel strange. Fences, a big security presence and a distinct nervousness in the air. Familiar pathways into our grandest open space all blocked off. Channelled into tightly controlled ways in. Monitored. For what? Worried we’d all misbehave like a typical Mathew Street Festival audience of old? Or is it about the sponsors and not upsetting them?

Anyway, we get in.

Anyway, we get in.

There’s a decent crowd and a sense of excitement and expectation in the air.

Children are happily gambolling about and the funfair's going in the distance.

Children are happily gambolling about and the funfair’s going across the field.

VIPs only.

VIPs only.

Being a Friday night we fancy a drink and see people emerging from the lovely ‘Romantitek’ pavilion I’d noticed the other day, with glasses in hand. We approach thirstily, only to find it’s for ‘VIPs’ and therefore not us.

First confirmation that we’ve arrived at something corporate.


Merchandise available.

Waiting for the orchestra we are marketed at. And little paper ‘Classic FM’ flags are being handed out to the children. It’s starting to feel like a posh version of a Radio 1 Roadshow from the 1980s. Any minute now Bruno Brookes will appear and start telling bad jokes. And he does.

Except it’s not him, but some similarly inane red-blazered bloke from Classic FM.

'Bruno Brookes'

‘Bruno Brookes’

At last the orchestra start, with some ‘Carmen.’ I assume, like at any gig, they’re using the first piece to get the sound right as it’s pretty quiet. But no, it stays that way. And as they plod through what the Echo calls –

“A  programme carefully chosen for the  venue and audience, with upbeat,  blockbuster-ish numbers featuring  plenty of whizz bangs, and classical  favourites”

We are underwhelmed.

It's all a bit, well, Classic FM.

It’s all a bit, well, Classic FM.

Mild music, much of it not classic at all.

Mild music, much of it not classic at all.

James Bond Theme, Pirates of the Caribbean? It’s like we’ve come to see the Beatles and they’re playing Octopus’s Garden and Ob-La-Di-Bla-Da. Weak.DSC07553

We leave at half-time.

We leave at half-time, meeting some similarly unimpressed friends also on the way out.

So, thanks very much and all that and we realise it has to get paid for somehow if we’re going to get in for free. But after this start the weekend in the Park can only get better. So rain, rain, go away and let’s have 3 more brighter days.

We pass the eerily quiet funfair on the way out, and miss the fireworks at the end.

We pass the eerily quiet funfair on the way out, and miss the fireworks at the end.

Download the full programme here.

7 thoughts on “Classics in the Park?

  1. Gerry

    It was quiet – we live a street away from the field, and at 7pm couldn’t hear a thing in our back garden. Thought it had been cancelled. No doubt council concerned about local residents complaining. We went over for the second half – not a huge crowd by any means. It was OK, but crowd-pleasing blockbuster numbers didn’t stop people all around talking; and at the back, outside the fenced-off VIP area, the sound was less than engaging. RLPO seemed to gallop through the short pieces, eager to have it over and done with. The fireworks were good, though drowned out the last section of the 1812. Orchestral classical music probably isn’t suited to this sort of thing.

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Glad it wasn’t just my ears Gerry.

      And ‘the fenced-off VIP area’ feels just wrong. Hope they don’t keep that up for the rest of the weekend. I’ll be checking.

  2. Becky

    I couldn’t disagree more! Thought the whole thing was a brilliant start to the weekend & I believe the majority there would agree. Yes, the pieces played were well known populist pieces, but in something like this where the idea of making classical music more accessible is one of the objectives then I think it was pitched just right. I took my 1 year old who loved it, as did children & adults of every other age I was sat near. I think your scraping the barrel for things to complain about if you resort to moaning about the red jacket or not being able to get into the VIP.

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thought this one might divide opinion. Met Mark McNulty, the official photographer for the event in the Park today and he strongly disagreed with me too.

      Ah well, it’s the joy of having a blog. I can say what I like. And I didn’t want to get into the VIP by the way, I wanted there to not be one.

  3. Paul Jones

    As far as I could tell the VIP bits were for the sponsors – a way of thanking them for funding large portions of the festival. And it was just one tent and one platform by the looks of it. Hardly a major imposition on the festival.

  4. Gemma

    I agree with Becky and Mark. I thought it was superb. I’m no classical music or orchestra aficionado but I thought the RLPO played magnificently and Petrenko was wonderful. He truly reached out to the audience. The atmosphere at the end was electric. This was a FREE concert put together to appeal to a broad demographic and for the whole city to (hopefully) enjoy and as such it was populist and fun as well as a hugely successful vehicle to showcase our world class orchestra to a massive audience of classical music buffs AND people who had maybe never heard a full orchestra play live before. I thought it was joyous.

    Re: the VIP area, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have an area for the musicians, singers, staff and guests of the council to hang out in. Just par for the course. If I’d just performed for an hour plus I certainly wouldn’t expect to have to queue up with hundreds of festival goers for a glass of wine!! Much as I’d love to find myself standing next to the lovely Vasily in a burger van queue.


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