Southbank concert review

Posted by Richard Poole on 14 July 2014

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The Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank saw the premiere of the latest work commissioned by Foden’s Band alongside Composer in Residence, Andy Scott.   

The twentieth new work to be presented over the weekend, it provided the culmination of a celebration of new music promoted by the Performing Rights Society together with other Arts organisations in England and Scotland.  

Admission was free, and although initial publicity had spoken of 100 tickets being available, considerably more gathered expectantly in the hall.

Illuminating discussion

The work was actually performed twice; separated by a discussion about its genesis involving composer Andy Scott, and conductor Michael Fowles.  It was the first time the composer had worked with a text, one which focused on historical events from the early 1970s when his family fostered a young Asian child fleeing Idi Amin’s repulsive Ugandan regime.  

Both Michael and Andy spoke of the learning curve they had experienced working together over the past few years exploring new textures and sound possibilities; in particular resolving balance problems in the work itself - which features a harpist and a soprano voice.

Vivid, challenging writing

The music started vividly, mirroring the turmoil from which the child had come; punctuated solos focused from flugel, cornet and euphonium.  As the textures changed, introducing the harp and more muted colours, the soprano narrator alternated between expressing the anguish of the boy (‘Where are my family’) and the opposition he faced (‘Get out of here’).  

The use of vibraphone alongside the harp was particularly effective, as were the tubular bells lowered into water to bend their pitch - echoing a sense of dislocation and fear.

Youth input

Four members of the Foden’s Youth Band shared elements of the narration, before taking up their place in the ensemble, whilst an interlude for harp and voice reflected on the reactions of some (and only some) of the people the child met in the UK - a reflection of the patronising and condescending attitudes of the time - frequently racist and xenophobic.  

The feeling of alienation was very clear, the vocal line projecting over driving big-band style writing, with John Barber and Helen Williams in particular featured as focused, emotive soloists. 

Conciliation

When the youngsters returned, it was with words of conciliation and understanding.  The work ended with Anne-Clare’s soprano voice powering over the band with a sense of warm humanity.

‘A Child Like You’ is a composition that is hard to categorize - at times showing elements of Kurt Weill’s theatre works, sometimes reminiscent of Honneger’s ‘Jeanne d’Arc au Bucher’. 

It is however an immensely powerful, emotive and very relevant work that reflects attitudes and circumstances of this or any other era.

Peter Bale

For any conductor and every audience, Foden’s Band is a musical Magic Carpet. It continually takes the listener to places that few other ensembles rarely even approach Howard Snell