Prom 35: New York: Sound of a City

“Celebrating the music of a modern New York, the Heritage Orchestra and conductor Jules Buckley present the sound of NYC. With guest artists drawn from across the Big Apple, expect anything from pagan-gospel and disco-punk to feminist rap or DIY indie.” [BBC Proms website]

Hercules and Love Affair, serpentwithfeet, Sharon Van Etten, Nitty Scott
Vula Malinga, Brendan Reilly, Sam White (backing vocals)
Heritage Orchestra
Jules Buckley

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Jones

Reviewed: 8 August, 2018
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Conductor Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra return to the BBC Proms 2018 with New York: Sound of a City. The Prom featured stars from across the Big Apple: Sharon van Etten, serpentwithfeet, Nitty Scott, and Hercules & Love AffairPhotograph: Chris Christodoulou / BBCThe Royal Albert Hall was bedecked with a welcoming butterfly motif and psychedelic traffic lights in waves of peppermint-green and purple: a nod to the vibrant innovation of the New York City contemporary music scene.

serpentwithfeet (Josiah Wise), a pagan-gospel singer and producer, rocking a lime-green snakeskin jacket opened the Prom with ‘Four Ethers’, a dramatic sombre song based on Berlioz’s ‘March to the Scaffold’ (from Symphonie fantastique) with Nina Simone-style vocals, all in a solemn and extraordinarily original sound.

This was followed by singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Memorial Day’. The staccato moog start was rather reflective; still, the mood lifted with serpentwithfeet’s ‘Mourning Song’. His vibrato vocals and heavy funereal brass lifted up to a Fugees-style tune; a palette of classical and contemporary emotional expression, while Van Etten’s wall of sound ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’, which featured in a recent Volvo commercial, left a sorrowful nostalgia and sense of longing.

Nitty Scott then strode on in full rap swagger sashaying a zebra print cape. Harmonies of ‘Flower Child’, ‘Still I Rise’ and the classic ‘La Diaspora’ were sometimes lost vocally in this cavern of the venue. However … Jules Buckley’s moves became more fluid, the audience started dancing and the energy level launched upwards as the Heritage Orchestra created its very own Saturday Night Fever.

Hercules and Love Affair (born to fill the Albert Hall, not every vocalist did) belted out their ecstatic Studio 54 ‘Hercules Theme’ followed by ‘Rejoice’; a hedonistic 1980s Yazoo-style composition pumping out energy. ‘Raise Me Up’ is a model 1970/80s number and the whole performance was a joyous celebration of New York, New York, closed by Van Etten’s encore, ‘New York I Love You’ – all in all, this was a glorious summer party.

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