Sunday was a fairly musically quiet day as my recent weekends go – I only had one work appointment, and that only three hours of rehearsal.
However, a freelance musician’s life is nothing if not interesting, and there were still a few surprises in store from the afternoon. Chief among them being the venue itself. To someone passing, or indeed looking for a scratch orchestra rehearsal, Challow Park Studios looks like a decaying manor house on the outskirts of Oxford market town Wantage, generally only remarkable for being the birthplace of King Alfred (and therefore naming everything possible after him), with enough of the building site about it to suggest it’s either being turned into something else (probably flats) or knocked down.
What lurks within the house I’m still not quite sure, though I think it contains a recital room as well as being actually lived in. However, the real gem is underneath – a top-spec classical recording, rehearsing and performing facility, with three live rooms, two control rooms (!) and the space we were using, a chamber orchestra-sized performance room with a 4-manual custom-self-built electronic organ.
All of this is the brainchild of Graham Blyth, the soloist in the concert we were rehearsing – who turns out to have started Soundcraft; like you do. (If this doesn’t mean much to you, say it to a sound engineer. You may need to stand back.) He is joining a body of selected string players to perform the ‘Albinoni’ Adagio, Elgar’s gorgeous String Serenade, the Poulenc Organ Concerto and Shostakovitch’s Chamber Symphony Op 110a (a string orchestra transcription of the monumental 8th string quartet).
Which leads me neatly forward from last weekend to next. If you want to discover this literally buried gem (only metaphorically, but appropriately, a gem), the concert is also there, 7:30 on this coming Saturday 6 February. I’m assured Challow Park Studios shows up on Google Maps in its own right so you can find it!