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Time to make overtures on return of tripartite structure

I have spent a considerable amount of time in the last fortnight listening to and being ceaselessly exhilarated by a new CD of overtures.

They are all by Rossini and the CD will be reviewed in the appropriate section of tomorrow's Sunday Herald.

As I have said to many musicians, conductors and music lovers in general over the years, I never cease to be amazed by how excited I still get when something really good smacks me in the ears.

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However long I have been around, however seasoned and battle hardened I might have become, when I am knocked out and thrilled by cracking performances of good music, I am still like a kid with a new toy, and I am far too old to be embarrassed about it.

So there I was last week, devouring the music pouring out from my latest "new toy", this brilliant firecracker of a collection of Rossini Overtures, and had you had the misfortune of being a fly on the wall, you would have heard this idiot prattling away to himself (as he does) such profundities as: "Oh what a cracker"; "Oh I'd love to hear a live performance of that one"; and "What a belter of a concert opener that one would be".

Anyway, after I had calmed down, I found myself musing on the subject of Rossini's Overtures, and then on overtures in general. There is always a Rossini Overture just over the horizon.

Is William Tell not the signature tune of Children's Classic Concerts and a popular guest in a thousand light classical concerts? And is the odd Rossini Overture not a staple in Raymond Gubbay's musical empire?

And you will always get to hear the Barber Of Seville when the ever-shrinking Scottish Opera rummages in its modest handful of opera productions and yanks it out again for the -nth time.

And is it not the case that one of Rossini's Overtures did service many decades ago in A Clockwork Orange (probably furnishing the soundtrack to bowler-hatted Alex giving somebody a kicking)?

More seriously, I mused on something else: is it the case that there are fewer overtures in orchestral concert programmes than there used to be?

I am not trying to provoke orchestral assistants and programmers into compiling lists to throw at me - there is no thesis or polemic here - it is just a muse of general curiosity.

I have an impression that, as a lad, I picked up the notion that there was a standard presentational structure, with an overture as a warm-up and opener, a concerto with a big name or a star as soloist, and then, after an interval, a whopping great symphony or equivalent to round off the night.

I am probably wrong, but as the lad turned into the young man, I perceived that tripartite structure

as something almost formulaic, ritualistic and badly needing refreshing if not rethinking.

Certainly, it seems to me that, over the last 40 years or so, as symphony orchestras have fought to survive

and revive, there is a lot of work gone on to completely restructure concert programmes, both in content and in context, as well as in presentation.

So, just for the hell of it, the other night I dug out all of this season's programmes, and did a rough head count of overtures, and of concerts built on that old tripartite structure. I am not going to bore you with details: it was the most stultifyingly dull exercise I have indulged in for many years; I fell asleep on the couch.

There are some overtures here and there in the season, but it is clear from the programmes that, over the years, much effort has gone in to devising alternative strategies in programming, including, and perhaps especially, how to start them.

But there is life in the old tripartite dog yet. If you get the right overture with the right conductor, the right concerto with the right soloist, and a big-boned classic warhorse of a symphony or symphonic poem, along with a good audience and a buzz, the night can feel like a steady crescendo.

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