On Estival day two, jazz hands and Color Me Badd’s Martin Harris Centre premiere

Wednesday 8th June, 2011

I was asked to review today’s concerts, sooo…I did. I’m that kind of guy.


Lunchtime Concert: University of Manchester Chamber Orchestra

Despite a shaky start that didn’t quite achieve the intense drama of Mozart’s opening, the orchestra redeemed themselves with the Haffner Serenade’s Andante and Allegro assai, making for a very convincing and elegant performance overall. Special credit is due to Amy Heggart for her charming violin solo in the Andante, and to conductor Thomas Jarvis for reining in this piece’s very tricky corners.

Though deceptively difficult to play, Beethoven’s 1st Symphony was brilliantly delivered. The orchestra demonstrated that sound quality necessary for proper classical playing; a kind of glistening poise that is best defined by my old cello teacher’s word ‘zing‘. The wind section, though made up almost entirely of first-year students, was oozing with skill and musicality. Emma Fry led with enthusiasm and vibrancy, and Jamie Phillips’s conducting was a perfect mix of flair and clarity: one recurring flamboyant gesture can only be described as ‘jazz hands’, but seemed to fit the context perfectly, and the players certainly responded to it.

Beat the Rush Hour Concert: The Joy of Voice

A wonderfully varied exploration of different vocal music genres, this concert opened with Stravinsky’s harmonically unusual but beautifully expressive Mass. The medium-sized choir – formed specially for the occasion – injected the music and text with energy and fluidity, and were very ably led by Ben McKee and Timothy Langston.

With Les Chansons de Bilitis, final-year student Emily McDouall drew us into a much more intimate world, bringing honesty and drama to this sensual cycle. Her mesmerising voice was delicate and yet filled the hall, powerful without being overpowering.

Finally, the University of Manchester Barbershop Chorus changed the mood entirely. With an upbeat approach and careful attention to rich harmonic detail, they seemed to win the audience over without effort, partly thanks to Antoine Kaiserman’s energetic and engaging direction. They opened with traditional barbershop fare, and closed with an ambitiously bizarre though refreshingly hilarious encore: following an outburst of ‘Ah tick tock, ya don’t stop’ from an apparently ordinary concert-goer, a rousing a capella rendition of Color Me Badd’s I Wanna Sex You Up gradually unfolded.

Ad Solem – The University of Manchester Chamber Choir

A quality performance as ever from Manchester’s answer to the BBC Singers. The tone of the ensemble was rich, clear and nicely blended, while this evening’s various soloists all rose above the texture with style and grace. The three guest basses were inevitably necessary in a Russian-themed programme – Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, for example, features a few too many bottom B-flats for even the best student singers – and they added a magnificent new dimension to the choir, allowing for a luxurious overall sound.

Ben McKee, at the helm for the second time today, showed a real understanding of the music; he clearly knew exactly where he wanted to take it, and the choir obviously trusted him. Tonight’s concert, though Ben’s last, also marked the debut of David Young as director. His leadership, previewed in Edward Bairstow’s Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, was extremely promising and made it clear that Ad Solem are set to achieve exciting things in their 2011-12 season.

The University of Manchester Barbershop Chorus rehearsing 'Jericho'


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