Fiona Monbet In Concert with Iain Ballamy and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales
(Hoddinott Hall, Millenium Centre, Cardiff, 29 April 2022. Review by Mike Collins)
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales were the hosts for this concert in the well-appointed surroundings of the Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre. Their guest, in one of their CoLaboratory series of concerts was French-Irish musical polymath, violinist, composer and conductor Fiona Monbet. She was joined by jazz national treasure Iain Ballamy for the première of ‘Tracks In The Orbits’, conducted by Monbet and written with Ballamy in mind by British -Australian composer Luke Styles. With a programme that progressed from the intriguing, jazz inflected La création du monde by Darius Milhaud, through the three movements of Styles’ piece built around the Ballamy sound, to Monbet’s own expansive Trois Reflet, it was an evening that covered and melded together a lot of musical bases. Classical, Jazz, Folk and Irish flavours were in the mix.
Monbet is remarkable in having established herself separately as a performer, composer and conductor. In Trois Reflets she inhabited all three identities simultaneously as the music slalomed effortlessly across musical idioms. In the first section of Trois Reflets her regular group of Auxanne Cartigny on piano, Arthur Henn on bass and Phillipe Maniez joined her and demonstrated the empathy and sublime timing that makes the simplest materials vibrate with energy. A folky theme, harmony traced first by piano, then sketched out by Monbet’s violin, gathered pace as bass and drums insinuated themselves into the mix. Composer Monbet’s orchestration was brought in by a gesture of conductor Monbet’s violin bow and they took flight. Another gear shift of tempo, artful modulations and the piece threatened to burst with emotional exuberance. The rest of the sections continued the pattern, weaving the Monbet magic. Ballamy joined for a bluesy swagger and then a final burn up on a frenetic reel, the entire string section transformed into a whirling stomp to finish.
Luke Styles worked with Iain Ballamy to shape and then refine Tracks In The Orbits. The piece. receiving its premiere at this concert, is a salute to the singular place Ballamy has carved out in the music. Whether angular rhythmic phrases echoed by the orchestra, elegant, bitter sweet lines against atmospheric textures, or dense, dissonant maelstrom, each movement had a recognizably Ballamy-esque character alongside the twists and demands Styles placed on the orchestra. This first account of Styles’ composition was absorbing, a piece with which the whole ensemble will be even more at a home with repeated performances.
National Orchestra Wales’ CoLaboratory certainly scored a hit with this genre-hopping programme and performance.