An Evening of Magic and Jazz

EMMA WELEMINSKY-SMITH is on a sugar-high after SCMS’s triumph with the spangled leadership of Simon Nathan.

Charlie Draper concert concerto Hannah Bell Harry Potter Jazz orchestra SCMS Simon Nathan The Simpsons theremin West Road Concert Hall

I am not usually an orchestral type – instrumental music tends to send me into brightly coloured daydreams, and I’m really not sure if that’s a good thing. However, almost from start to finish, this ‘Evening of Magic and Jazz’ left me wide-eyed.

It’s hard to pick fault in what amounted to perfectly executed performances of great pieces. Divided in two, as the show title suggested, the ‘magic half’ was particularly good, especially the ‘Spellbound Concerto’ (Miklós Rósza).  It was a beautiful showcase for the talented first violinist, Hannah Bell, whose glistening dress suited her well. Nadanai Laohakunakorn’s wonderful twinkly sounds of the ‘magic’ were brought out of the side-lines and into the fore.

Nathan’s choice of pieces with a large array of percussion (over 35 instruments we are told) brought these musicians who can easily be pushed to the back into the spotlight. A special treat (although it took me while to spot him) was Charlie Draper on the theremin, a most unusual instrument whose creepy sounds were greatly enhanced by Draper’s wonderful expressions and gestures that perfectly matched the tone of Rósza’s piece.

Perhaps the only thing I would have changed was the order of the night – however much you love to dance the night away to the ‘Mambo’ from West Side Story, even a violinist I overheard during the interval admitted that the ‘magic’ was his favourite part. I felt myself fall into day-dream mode somewhere during ‘An American in Paris’. As I applauded the final piece, I was still feeling that ‘Spellbound Concerto’ and ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ stole the show, until, with a touch of genius, Nathan re-entered the stage to do a extra closing number – the Simpsons theme tune. I take my magical hat off to the conductor, Harry Potter may pull heavily on the childhood-nostalgia heartstrings, but the Simpsons trumps just about anything.

Simon Nathan combined his great presence and skill as a conductor with a few quirky touches that really made the evening. Apart from the surprise Simpsons number, he dressed appropriately for the occasion, with wizard’s robes for the first half and a glittering suit and tie for the ‘jazz’ section. He even used a wand to conduct the Harry Potter pieces, and the whole orchestra jokingly gowned-up to match him. Even his ever-so-slightly pompous walking on and off between every piece, dodging between cellos and clarinets, could be forgiven for his sheer schoolboy joy and enthusiasm.

The bad news? This was a one-night-only performance, but all I can say is look out for Selwyn College Music Society and Simon Nathan’s wacky concerts in the future– I’m sure he has some more great ideas up his sleeve.