Celebrating live music

Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

The relaxation of restrictions this summer signalled the start of a slow transition back to normality for us all. For Bedales Prep, Dunhurst’s Director of Music, Ben Harlan, the easing of restrictions meant he could finally reunite with his band, ZRI, for a long-awaited performance at the Alpentöne Festival, Switzerland, in August. 

Combining the music of 19th century Gypsy bands from Eastern Europe with the music of composers such as Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms, ZRI – which stands for ‘Zum Roten Igel’, known in English as the ‘Red Hedgehog Tavern’, the Viennese venue where Schubert and Brahms themselves would go to hear Gypsy music – took to the stage on the third evening of the Alpentöne Festival. 

The band, which along with Ben (clarinet) comprises Matthew Sharp (cello), Max Baillie (violin), Jon Banks (accordion) and Iris Passaride (santouri), performed their concert programme ‘Schubert at the Red Hedgehog Tavern’, a radical re-scoring of Schubert’s masterwork, weaving Hungarian and Gypsy tunes into a piece deeply inspired by folk traditions. 

In a praise filled write-up published in Swiss newspaper Urner Wochenblatt, reviewer Elisa Hipp wrote: “Clarinettist Ben Harlan doesn't just blow into his clarinet, he swings it to and fro, up and down, he dances with it, he is a total work of art.”  

Listen to ZRI’s performance here (skip to 1hr 6min to listen). 

Ben said: “The concert was a huge success and it was so exciting to be at a festival in Switzerland. Alpine horn quartets were on every street corner, accordion cases littered the backstage areas (a rarity in the UK!), the Weissbier and Wurst were delicious, but best of all was to see my band members once more after nearly two years of not playing live together.” 

He added: “After lockdown, it is clear that live music making has been sorely missed by both audience and bands, and as far as I can tell, it is for this reason alone – the opportunity to share, to give, to breathe together and to feel one’s place as part of a wider community. That is what making music is all about and what I look forward to doing much more now that school is back and we can give regular live concerts again.” 

Ben Harlan | ZRI | Music at Dunhurst