St Johns Church, Waterloo, May 20th 2010, review by Frank Griffith
This was a remarkable collaboration of jazz and jazz-influenced mid 20th Century music. It was given as part of the South Bank Sinfonia ‘s regular Thursday Rush Hour concert series at St Johns Church Waterloo (above). Along with the substantial forces of Britain’s leading orchestral academy (source: SBS website) were an arsenal of talented players from the GSMD Big Band led by the gaffer of all things jazz at Guildhall, alto saxophonist, Martin Hathaway. Conducting and organising this event was the redoubtable Sandy Burnett, a modern day Andre Previn doffing a multitude of musical millinery with no discernable bumps or demarcations between styles or idioms.
The one hour programme was based around two major 1940s works; Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town and Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige suite orchestrated by Maurice Peress in 1974. Both pieces were performed with precision and spirit by the highly skilled yet open-minded and versatile recent music college graduates which helps point the way for the future of orcherstras’ survival amongst the current climate of declining funding and audiences for conventional classical music programmes. For this generation of talented and versatile musicians, the notion that boundaries have existed between genres is becoming increasingly archaic and irrelevant.
An additional item was composer/pianist and academic, Malcolm Edmonstone ‘s treatment of the popular standard But Beautiful which rocketed away in a fantasy-like exhibition of reworked themes, and tempo and feel changes. In addition, an intoxicatingly engaging harmonic riff like figure brought this epic to a close escorting the listener through a wondrous journey utilising this impressive ensemble’s forces. Floating and soaring over the top melodically was Hathaway’s melliflous alto sax and his inventive extemporisations.
A wonderful and effective confluence of contemporary and traditional sounds and hats off to conductor Sandy Burnett and to the Sinfonia’s Katharine Verney for, respectively, directing and getting behind a highly innovative and successful piece of programming.