Sunday 27 April 2014

Singing the Oceans Alive

Patricia Cori and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra
Patricia Cori and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra
Save Earth Oceans is an American charity dedicated 'to help preserve the oceans of this great planet and help save and protect the Cetaceans and other sea mammals from suffering, abuse and slaughter around the world'. Their event Singing the Oceans Alive was a fund raising concert at Fairfield Halls in Croydon on 25 April 2014, when a variety of musicians from different backgrounds came together to perform. On stage throught was the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by Tim Redmond and they were joined by singer songwriters Kristin Hoffmann and Lucinda Drayton, by Tibetan flautist Nawang Khechog, the young conductor and pianist Karim Said, Tim Wheater, Craig Pruess on sitar, saxophonist Premik Russell Tubbs, the Ganda Boys and duduk player Levon Minassian. The evening ended with Save Earth Oceans founder Patricia Cori reading her own work to the accompaniment of music by Gabriel Currington, who along with Craig Pruess had arranged much of the evening's music.

The evening opened with Kristin Hoffmann, a singer/songwriter from New York, performing her own song Song for the Ocean (orchestral arrangement by Gabriel Currington) which might be described as the evening's title track. Hoffmann has a Joni Mitchell-like voice and Song for the Ocean proved to be an attractive folk-inspired ballad which was accompanied by videos of dolphins (though for the remainder of the concert the videos were replaced by projected photographs, which seemed a missed opportunity). Next came Tibetan flute music written and played by the Tibetan flute player Nawang Khechog (orchestral arrangement by Gabriel Currington). Khechog was dressed in a most amazing yellow embroidered tunic. His flute sounded as if it did not quite play the same scale as the orchestra, and Currington's orchestral accompaniment relied heavily on drones and open intervals. The result was hauntingly attractive.

Tim Redmond then conducted the orchestra in the second movement of Debussy's La Mer - Jeux de vagues a performance which was nicely impulsive and impressionistic. If the string playing lacked the high gloss of some orchestras, this was compensated by the highly characterful playing.

Another singer/songwriter followed, this time local girl Lucinda Drayton who gave a deeply felt performance of her own lyrical ballad (orchestration by Craig Pruess and Tom Kilworth). 

Then the young conductor Karim Said took the podium to conduct Mahler's Adagietto from his fifth symphony. Jordan-born, London-based Said trained at the Royal Academy of Music and has worked with Daniel Barenboim and his East-West Divan Orchestra. Said brought out some interestingly characterful textures in the piece, which complemented the lovely swooping melodies (with some nice solo moments from violins and cellos). This was quite a disciplined performance, with a steady beat and though Said allowed space for the music to ebb and flow there was thankfully no sign of overdone rubatos. That said, the more emotional passages did throb nicely.

The first half concluded with the final movement of Debussy's La mer - Dialogue du vent et de la mer again conducted by Redmond. This was taken at quite a swift tempo but was finely atmospheric with some lovely flashes of colour in the orchestra and a wonderfully orgasmic climax.

Fairfield Halls in Croydon was first opened in 1962 and the concert hall is clearly modelled on the Royal Festival Hall with many similar features and a lovely period wood-clad interior. Though from my first acquaintance, the hall does not seem to suffer from the acoustic problems which the RFH suffered.

The second half of the concert opened with Tim Wheater playing some sort of ancient flute, and joined in front of the orchestra by Craig Pruess on sitar and a tabla player. They performed the evocative Whale Song written by Wheater and Pruess (orchestration by Craig Pruess and Tom Kilworth). Craig Pruess's writing credits include sound tracks for films such as Bend it like Beckham.

This was followed by Karim Said, returning to play a piano solo, more Debussy this time his Claire de Lune in a performance notable for its poise, lovely tone, flexibility and clarity.

Saxophone player Premik Russell Tubbs, whose performing credits include playing with Sting, performed Alpa Kathar a melody by Sri Chinmoy arranged by Matthijs Jongepier. It had an oriental feel, with some jazz inspired moments, and a flowing, rich toned saxophone solo. The Ganda Boys are an African fusion band (consisting of Denis Mugagga, Dan Sewagudde and Craig Pruess) and they joined the orchestra for one of their own songs (orchestrated by Craig Pruess and Tom Kilworth), a lovely lyrical ballad.

The duduk is an Armenian woodwind instrument. It has a very large reed in proportion to its size and the unflattened reed and  cylindrical body of the instrument produce a sound closer to that of a clarinet or saxophone than to more commonly known double-reeds. The result is surprisingly low and mellow for its size. Levon Minassian played his own melody, Sayat Nova, orchestrated by Gabriel Currington. Players of the duduk use circular breathing, holding wind in their cheeks, and Minassian also used this to give the sound a significant, yet attractive vibrato. The result was very evocative, with Currington's atmospheric orchestration. (for those of you curious, there are a number of videos of Minassian playing the duduk on YouTube)

Having heard a number of Gabriel Currington's orchestrations during the evening, it was finally his chance in the limelight as The Emissary used music by film composer Gabriel Currington to provide varied and characterful accompaniment to Patricia Cori reading her own words from her book The Emissary. Finally all the artists joined together to perform the Song for the Ocean again.

Throughout the evening conductor Tim Redmond provided witty introductions to the different items. He and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played with poise and character in a wide variety of music.

Before I finish, I must also congratulate the stage management and back-stage staff. With many such galas, the logistics mean that you often spend some time waiting between each act for the necessary setups etc. But not here, the evening ran smoothly from beginning to end in what was an impressive logistical achievement.

All the music we heard in the evening was deeply felt, coming from a variety of different traditions to support a highly valuable and worthwhile cause. The audience also seemed to share the sentiments and were highly appreciative.

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