Hear the Future!

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Urban Sounds

Barbican Folk Ensemble

Savitri Grier (violin)
Barbican Young Orchestra
Andrew Gourlay


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 July, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

As a prelude to the Barbican Centre and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama launching their Creative Learning initiative, and also building on two years of success for the Barbican Young Orchestra, this concert opened with Urban Sounds (young musicians from inner-city London), intriguing indeed, overflowing with commitment and talent, and the necessary enthusiasm (or innocence) of breaking-down musical boundaries. Paul Griffiths (guitar) and the directing and vocalising Sigrun Saevarsdottir-Griffiths kept things in shape. The final result – irrespective of how much was composed and how much improvised – was of a meaningful ensemble geared to achieving shared ends but with plenty of opportunity for individual display, confidently taken.

However, it would have been interesting to have heard this not-short-on-personnel ensemble play without amplification (excepting those instruments requiring it, of course); not only was the music played too loud, but surely these youngsters need to learn to project and not rely on the crutch of having it done for them? Louder still was the even-more-populated (and psychedelically dressed) Barbican Folk Orchestra, led by Joe Broughton, whose opening ‘toying with’ the audience was tiresome, and the dressed-in-bright-red Poloma Trigas. This certainly didn’t need amplification, a goes-with-the-territory but unthinking addition, and was aggressively ear-splitting and thumping; a shame for there was much to exhilarate here in the coming-together of Irish folk-rhythms and pulsating jazz, trombones adding a welcome rasp. Again, nothing but praise for the (East London) talent and application on offer.

The natural tones and projection of the Barbican Young Orchestra (its members aged between 8 and 17) came as balm to the ear. Sadly though Sir Colin Davis was not presiding in what would have been his third consecutive year; the previous two had been memorable events. The day before this concert, Sir Colin (so energetic and patrician just a week earlier for Haydn’s “The Seasons”) was taken poorly in rehearsal, the baton being passed to Andrew Gourlay, who had also been involved in the rehearsal process.

Gourlay, who in early June was awarded the first prize at the tenth Cadaqués Orchestra International Conducting Competition, and who was already appointed as Assistant Conductor to the Hallé (from September this year), was a tactful and helpful guide to the young musicians. One sensed Colin Davis’s wisdom and gravitas in Mozart’s Adagio (K261) in which the BYO’s leader Savitri Grier gave a heartfelt and expressive solo; she’s one to watch. Nice to hear Mozart played with spaciousness and warmth of tone. Whether Colin Davis would have been as fleet and foursquare in the ‘Waltz’ and ‘Polonaise’ from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” is another matter, but these young players had the measure of getting the notes in place. Their eagerness sparkled in the opera’s ‘Ecossaise’ and there was an emotional thrall to Sibelius’s Finlandia that stirred and moved to close the concert on a high.



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