Moses Sumney meets Jules Buckley and the BBC Symphony Orchestra

From the BBC Proms website: “Blending soul, jazz, art-pop and spoken word, singer-songwriter Moses Sumney defies traditional categories. His ever-evolving voice has channelled political rage and emotional optimism into everything from sprawling orchestral tracks to electronica. Here he performs songs from his albums Aromanticism and græ in new orchestral arrangements, masterminded by Jules Buckley.

Moses Sumney (singer)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jules Buckley

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Jones

Reviewed: 21 August, 2021
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Red light. High pitch violins. Stage-left, Moses Sumney in a veil. Reprising Michael Jackson’s 2006 abaya look or trolling the Taliban? Or toying with masculine identity? Moses picked up the mic and launched with ‘Virile’ from his second studio album græ, released in 2020. In 1979 whilst interviewing Ayatollah Khomeini the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci threw off her chador, worn as a condition of having the interview, creating global news; tonight Moses threw his off his veil, being his first costume change.

Moses’s mercurial falsetto climbed higher and higher into the RAH infinity, fading into the organ’s crazed crescendo with the entire complex of the BBC Symphony Orchestra behind him. It was a pure rock opera overture.

Popular music’s appetite for falsetto vocals is a constant, from Jon Anderson, Al Green, David McAlmont, Prince, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Somerville. And now Moses has arrived, with blond hair, rippling torso, industrial sized gold necklace, and Maison Margiela Cuban-heeled boots – an oven-ready rock star.

‘Colouour’ began with a masterful solo sax whilst Moses left to return in a billowing full-length cape: the second costume change. The concert ended with Moses’s breakthrough ‘Doomed’ from Aromanticism and used on the end-credits of Westworld III , and he sang into a hand-held mic whilst leaving to a cello solo, and then returning without the cape: the final costume change.

Moses announced there would be an encore of two songs starting with ‘Plastic’ from the 2016 HBO series Insecure. Its themes of counterfeiting are similar to The Who’s ‘Substitute’, and it ended in a retro swoon of Mantovani strings. The final song was ‘Polly’, with only a guitar for accompaniment.

At last Moses’s lyrics could be clearly heard and understood as he pined for a deeper love with Polly, reflecting the earlier theme of the restrictions of masculinity in ‘Virile’.

Without doubt, Moses Sumney is a compelling entertainer. However, even his vocal ability could not command the orchestra and the Hall, leaving us unable to hear his lyrics and share his emotional authenticity throughout most of the night.

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