Review: Cambridge Symphonic Winds

LIZZIE BENNETT: ‘It may sound as if the orchestra and audience all went on some sort of joint LSD-induced trip, and maybe we did… I strongly recommend this group, and cannot wait to attend another of their concerts. ‘

Saturday 29th May, St. Giles' Church. £7-10. 

When one goes to a concert, scans the programme, and sees “Godzilla Eats Las Vegas!” listed as the final piece, one knows that a somewhat unusual evening awaits. For sheer entertainment value, this really was one of the best concerts I have ever attended: there was great enthusiasm behind the playing, which was matched by impressive technical ability. 

The ensemble’s sense of humour became even more evident in the introductions given by the conductor, Richard Hull, to the items performed: congratulating the ‘regulars’ for ‘remembering to sit towards the back’ to avoid perforated ear drums; acknowledging that only by Cornish standards was Padstow a ‘city of the world’; and describing Martin Ellerby, the composer of the penultimate piece, as a composer who could write beautiful and poignant music, despite being ‘evil personified’. 

There are only a few criticisms that can be made about CSW’s performance on Saturday night. Their weakest piece was Grainger’s arrangement of the famous Londonderry air. The difficulty of this piece lies not in the notes, which are not technically demanding, but in playing the melody sensitively. The performance suffered mainly from being too loud – it would have been far more effective if it had been a truly quiet contrast to the rest of the programme. The song-like qualities of the piece (which, after all, is a folksong) may also have been brought out more.

All of the other pieces, however, were performed to a very high standard. The arrangement of Copland’s ‘Quiet City’ was elegantly played, and of particular note were Graham Dolby, who played the cor anglais solo, and Andrew Powlson, the trumpet soloist, whose few split notes did not detract from the overall performance, and whose beautiful tone quality was a real asset to the ensemble as a whole. 

Similarly, there were some beautiful alto sax solos, particularly in Gorb’s ‘Metropolis’, and the young girl playing the drums was especially good as well. Percussion, in fact, seemed very popular, with every player having more than one opportunity to join in during the concert. 

Now for Godzilla. This piece was performed in tandem with an inspired slideshow (the use of which came as something of a relief to me, as I had been hoping that the projector and screen were not permanent fixtures in an otherwise quite traditional church). 

It would be impossible to convey quite how bizarre the combination of music and slideshow was – picture a cute Golden Labrador puppy being squashed by Godzilla and a pool of blood gradually seeping out from underneath Godzilla’s foot, Godzilla flattening a group of ‘hysterical vegans’, and the squishing of Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton and Liberace in quick succession (yes, there was a lot of crushing going on). 

This trail of destruction was followed by a screen declaring, ‘It’s intermission time, folks’, during which members of the orchestra drank wine, threw sweets at each other and ate things which can’t be good for playing a reed instrument immediately after. After the ‘intermission’, Mr Presley made an appearance: an Army of ‘Elvis’s’/’Elvae’/’Elvi’ (the slideshow went through a couple of possibilities before settling on Elvi) turned up and saved the Known World.

It may sound as if the orchestra and audience all went on some sort of joint LSD-induced trip, and maybe we did. All I know about it is that the utter absurdism was a suitably zany conclusion to a fantastic night. I strongly recommend this group, and cannot wait to attend another of their concerts. 

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University of Cambridge Frank Sinatra Godzilla Grainger Londonderry LSD Mr Presley Richard Hull Saxophone Wayne Newton