WHAT actually is a gala? How would you define that word? The question arose in my mind as I drove home from last night’s Liberation Gala Concert at the Jersey Opera House. To my own way of thinking, the word means something special or celebratory, such as Gala Night or Durham Miners’ Gala. In the context of Gala Night at the Opera or Theatre, there is a suggestion (for me at least} that some slight sartorial effort on the part of the audience is expected, rather than just turning up in jeans and open neck.
When I got home, I reached for the Concise OED and looked up the definition of ‘gala’: ‘Festive occasion, fête (from originally Arab, kil’a – a presentation garment}.’ So I was not impossibly wrong in my thinking, then.
And so, was last night truly a gala evening? The answer depends on your perception, of course.
.Without sounding too much like the proverbial ‘disgusted, Tunbridge Wells’ retired colonel, the inference of some sartorial effort did not exist. One gets used to that sort of sloppiness with audiences, these days, but it is still a slight shock to see performers walk on stage in jeans. A little bit more of that element of ‘kil’a, a presentation garment ’ might have been more appropriate.
But yes, it was ‘gala’ in the more important sense of having, as the performers, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – a really top orchestra, playing music, with one notable exception, from that comfortable era on period instruments. And very well they played too, as might be expected: Corelli, Vivaldi, Bach and Handel.
For the Bach they were joined by the noted violin soloist Alexander Sitkovetsky: the Violin Concerto in A minor with its lovely andante second movement, which came, in my opinion, as near to musical perfection as might be possible in this Vale of Tears. So definitely a gala event in terms of both orchestra and soloist.
However – and I take the blame on myself rather than blaming the performance - the piece ‘Spinal Chords’ by Sally Beamish is not something to which my ears are attuned to enjoy. Bluntly although it ended on an optimistic note, goodness, it was a struggle to get to that point. In the words of a chance-met acquaintance in the interval: ‘torture’.
But to be fair, in conversation with someone else who had recovered from a long illness, he told me that he empathised with the piece in a unique way – although we agreed it was a challenging and perhaps questionable inclusion in what we both imagined a ‘Gala Concert’ would or should be like.
Full marks to the orchestra, whose rendition of Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in B Minor merged almost imperceptibly into this very modern piece, which, as the name suggests, consisted of a series of chords played during the course of a recitation. The words were by Melanie Reid, and describe a bad riding accident that left her a paraplegic trying to come to terms with a vastly changed life.
Profound and arresting it may be and only ‘torture’ to those who have different expectations from music, but ‘Gala Night? More like a gala pie, perhaps: delicious bits, but some of the pastry was a bit dry.