Proms at Sage Gateshead: A Scintillating Culmination – Jazz and Spirituals in Perfect Harmony

My Lord, what a morning
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Great camp-meetin’
Steal away
Save me Lord
By and by / There is a balm in Gilead
Deep River
I Got a Robe
Were You There
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Bright Sparkles in the Churchyard

Florence Price

Henry Thacker Burleigh

Florence Price

Reginald Mobley

Baptiste Trotignon

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 23 July, 2023
Venue: Sage Gateshead, Sage Two

The final concert of the BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead proved to be an unexpected and delightful conclusion to a weekend filled with musical fervour. Concertgoers were treated to an afternoon that blended the soulful essence of jazz and the transcendent allure of spirituals, all presented with a touch of vibrant colour as both artists adorned themselves in eye-catching Bermuda-type shirts, eschewing the traditional black and white concert attire.

Baptiste Trotignon, the remarkable French pianist and composer was captivating. Commencing his piano and classical music studies at a tender age of six, Trotignon later encountered jazz and improvisation during his formative years, setting him on a unique trajectory. Noteworthy solo and trio albums in the early 2000s solidified his reputation, earning him awards such as the 2001 Prix Django Reinhardt and the Grand Prix at the 2002 Martial Solal International Jazz Piano Competition. A true master of his craft, Trotignon’s virtuosity was evident from the first note. Joining him was the Grammy Award-nominated American countertenor, Reginald Mobley, a formidable talent specializing in Baroque and Classical repertoire.

Tom McKinney gracefully steered the afternoon, providing insights into the program’s diverse offerings, all of which were being premiered at the Proms. The concert was structured into sections, with the first segment featuring traditional spirituals, brilliantly arranged by Trotignon. Among them were the familiar strains of ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,’ accompanied by a gospel-inspired piano arrangement that enveloped the listeners in its warmth. Yet, it was the lesser-known gem ‘Because’ by Florence Price that left a lasting impression, commencing with Trotignon’s mesmerizing piano extemporisation and culminating in Mobley’s soul-stirring delivery of the phrase “boon of Death,” resonating lower and lower into the depths of his register, captivating the audience with its haunting beauty.

The second set introduced the influential figure of Harry T Burleigh, an American classical composer, arranger, and singer whose impact on American music was far-reaching. The interplay of the music of early spiritual composers and religion here was most pronounced in the juxtaposition of “By an’ by” and “There is a balm in Gilead,” both arranged by Trotignon

Throughout the afternoon, the repertoire included a treasure trove of splendid songs that had the potential to become timeless classics. Harry T Burleigh’s “Jean” and Florence Price’s “Sunset,” (which featured in the second half of the concert), were prime examples, showcasing the richness and depth of American musical heritage.

Poignant renditions of spirituals such as “Steal away” and “Deep river,” also familiar as part of Sir Michael Tippett’s oratorio “A Child of our Time,” left a lasting emotional impact, particularly due to the simplicity and effectiveness of Trotignon’s arrangements.

Reginald Mobley’s charismatic presence breathed life into the more upbeat numbers, such as ‘I got robe,’ as he clicked his fingers in time with the rhythm, adding an endearing touch of showmanship. The collaborative nature of the performance was evident, with the partnership between Trotignon and Mobley standing as equals throughout the concert. Trotignon’s generous piano extemporisations provided moments of respite for the singer, as seen in the heartfelt rendition of “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”

As the concert drew to a close, the piece “Bright sparkles in the churchyard” unfurled, commencing with hushed intensity before gradually building to a resplendent climax. Some might have anticipated a more exuberant finale, but the standing ovation that ensued signalled an encore. Reginald Mobley, with a playful glint in his eye, inquired, “How about a little Jazz?” The response from the assembled was unanimous, and a sumptuous rendition of Duke Ellington’s “(In my) Solitude” ensued, concluding the evening on a spellbinding note.

This, the fourth and final concert of the BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead was an altogether unforgettable experience. Baptiste Trotignon and Reginald Mobley’s exceptional partnership, alongside the inventive arrangements, offered a fresh perspective on jazz and the music of spirituals, that was both moving and inspiring.

1 thought on “Proms at Sage Gateshead: A Scintillating Culmination – Jazz and Spirituals in Perfect Harmony”

  1. This was a superb and compelling Prom; absolutely marvellous musical collaboration between Mobley and Trotignon – a ‘stand out’ Prom! Thank you for bringing this to the programme – wonderful!

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