Review: Orchestra of Opera North

A Day in the Life

Clothworkers Hall, University of Leeds

Saturday 4th May 2019

THIS Orchestra of Opera North project acknowledges the workers and protesters of the Industrial Revolution. Associate leader Andy Long remembers the sad story of young Robert Blincoe, a child labourer in one of early 19th century England’s dark satanic mills. When the older boy workers found Blincoe scavenging potato and turnip peelings to supplement the meagre food ration, they filed his teeth down to points.

This harrowing image inspired Andy to commission composer Kevin Malone to write a violin concerto for him. The twenty four sections represent a minute for each hour of Blincoe’s tortured daily routine which began at 5.00am with the shrill wake up call to start work. The shift ends fourteen hours later with the singing of the Old Hundredth, before trudging to the doss house for a disgusting meal of scraps.

Kevin Malone’s concerto conveys the deafening mechanical sound of špinning machines interspersed with folk tunes or hymns. Exhausted child workers were forced to sing hymns to stop them from falling asleep.

Robert Guy conducts and Andy Long plays the virtuosic solo violin part portraying Blincoe at work, or briefly escaping into a sleep induced dream world. Orchestral violins alternate the up and down movements of their bows to resemble the weaving looms. Sudden silences denote the ominous hush of the lunch break or workers attempting to lip read each other. Deafness was commonplace in this hellish environment.

Malone himself introduced My Mill Life, his own captivating compilation of recorded memories spanning 85 years and spliced with Andy Long’s melancholy solo violin. A housewife wistfully recalls hanging out the washing every Monday only for the whites to be specked with soot from the forest of chimneys: “That was our life”.

And finally, A Peterloo Parade, Malone’s 10-minute boisterous orchestral celebration of the peaceful protest at Manchester’s St Peter’s Square, on 16th August 1819. Peaceful that is, until local magistrates ordered in the armed cavalry to charge the crowd of 70,000. Many hundreds were killed and injured.

There is still time to catch the final performance of this thought provoking, informative and entertaining production on Saturday 25th May, 7.30pm at Bradford Cathedral.

Geoffrey Mogridge