'The other ocean' - the performance

The Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra sum up a whirlwind performance alongside composer Esmeralda Conde Ruiz for the Adopt a Composer project.

We had planned for the premiere of Esmeralda’s work 'The other ocean' to be in July, a few months after first receiving it. The notes didn’t seem too difficult; a few tricky rhythms but surely they would soon come with practice? Fortunately, our wise mentor, Fraser, advised us to postpone until November rather than rushing, partly so that we could enjoy the experience more. What a good thing we did as the final performance threw up far more challenges than we anticipated.

Esmeralda had composed seven short movements to accompany pieces of local film archive material. She had been to see us rehearse and had observed two important features about us. First that we were generally not good at following our conductor, Lindsay, and second that we had a tendency to speed up when playing. One of the movements she wrote for us was called ‘fast’ and required us to speed up to order! This, of course, we found was much more difficult than our usual unplanned method and required intense following of the conductor.

An even bigger challenge was to precisely coordinate the music with the film, something we had never been required to do and required a huge amount of work especially for Lindsay.

To explain, the film footage included scenes of children sledging down snow slopes, holiday makers playing beach games, machinery, eclipses and children marching. For every scene it was crucial that the music started exactly at the right time and at the correct tempo or the child would career down the slope just before or after the lovely chord that was supposed to go with it. So once again, especially as the orchestra couldn’t see the film which was shown behind us, watching Lindsay was imperative. Practicing with a metronome has never been more important!

The day went well. We had chosen a nice venue at the University of Sussex where we were treated to some impressive lighting technology which added greatly to the atmosphere. The performance was preceded by a presentation from Dr Frank Gray of the Screen Archive South East who had provided the film and by a discussion session with Lindsay, Esmeralda and Frank about the project. I think we pulled off the playing pretty well! Certainly, all the audience members we spoke to seemed impressed and there was an excited buzz in the bar afterwards. It certainly was one of the most unusual projects we have ever done.