Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

17 December 2008

Last Sunday’s Northampton Symphony Orchestra ‘Christmas Cracker’ concert marked the end of an era, with our conductor of more than seven years, Graham Tear, wielding the baton for the final time. It was an emotional occasion in the enormous atrium of Unity College, Northampton, spoiled only by the lack of heating as the result of a flood at the college earlier in the week. While it was quite cold, the sight, on Sunday afternoon, of a packed audience in hats, coats and gloves under the vast glass ceiling of atrium as the sun sank slowly away, somehow seemed even more Christmassy – creating an image of massed carol singers assembled in a town square. The ‘Christmas Cracker’ concert has become a valued Northampton tradition and all the usual elements were present: classical music with a Christmas theme (including the ‘Sleigh Ride’ by Delius), carols for the audience to sing, a narrated work (Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’) and an orchestra dominated by Santa hats and tinsel. The climax, as always, was provided by trumpeter Nick Bunker’s entrance at the beginning of the second half of the concert to play the ‘Sleigh Ride’ by Leroy Anderson: this year, with several younger members of the audience still traumatised by the cries of the eaten-alive duck in the wolf’s stomach at the end of ‘Peter and the Wolf’, Nick appeared in a 6-foot Daffy Duck costume, with one arm in a sling! A lovely afternoon, ending with an encore of Ronan Hardiman’s ‘Lord of the Dance’, providing a great send-off for Graham Tear.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

'Junctions' - The Tacet Ensemble with Spiers and Boden

10 December 2008

John Spiers and Jon Boden are two of the stars of the current young wave of English folk music - a fantastic duo and the foundations of the wonderful folk big band Bellowhead (reviewed here in October 2006 and July 2008). On Saturday we were at The Stables to see Spiers & Boden in 'Junctions' - a fascinating new collaboration with the classical chamber group, the Tacet Ensemble. Over the past few months, the Tacet players, Spiers & Boden and the composers Alison Kay and Ed Hughes have taken part in a series of 'collaboration days' resulting in four compositions (by Kay, Hughes, Spiers and Boden) for these combined folk and classical forces. These new works were performed on Saturday alongside traditional English folk music from Spiers & Boden and chamber works by contemporary English classical composers including Graham Fitkin, Michael Finnissy and Julian Anderson. It made for an interesting and varied evening though the comparisons between folk and classical sometimes seemed a little unfair: by their nature the traditional folk tunes were much more instantly accessible whereas the classical pieces, whilst not 'difficult' listening, probably needed to be heard several times to be fully appreciated. Nevertheless it was an enthralling evening with some wonderful performances: I think my pick of the new compositions was Jon Boden's arrangement of the traditional song 'Barbara Allen' which seemed most effectively to present something with clear folk origins as serious, thoughtful, contemporary music.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

‘Tchamantché’ by Rokia Traoré

5 December 2008

Rokia Traoré is a Malian musician, now based in Paris, who sings in the Wassoulou style, using traditional instruments, rhythms and harmonies to create a remarkably innovative, modern sound. I love her 2003 album ‘Bowmboi’ – I think it’s my favourite African CD – and have been looking forward to its long-awaited successor, ‘Tchamantché’. It’s probably a little too early to say but on a first listen ‘Tchamantché’ sounds just as good, if not better. It’s a fascinatingly varied collection of songs with the traditional Malian instruments augmented by a range of unlikely partners. But all the tracks are dominated by Rokia Traore’s distinctive, haunting, intimate, breathy voice. It’s strangely both shocking and completely natural when, towards the end of the album, she sings, in English, Billie Holiday’s ‘The Man I Love’. A sophisticated, engaging and beautiful CD.

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