Milton Court Concert Hall, Guildhall School Of Music & Drama, The Barbican London
The Guildhall Saxophone Ensemble conducted by ensemble director Christian Forshaw, with Angèle on piano and two percussionists.
The 14 saxophonists of the ensemble comprised 3 soprano saxes, 3 alto saxes, 3 tenor saxes, 3 baritone saxes plus a bass saxophone and a sopranino saxophone, with one of the altos, one of the baritones and two of the sopranos doubling on clarinets for one piece. Interesting that out of the fourteen of them, eight were women. All three of the sopranos, one of the tenors, two of the baritones and two of the altos.
The ensemble kicked off with a rendition of Philip Glass’s soundtrack music for the film “Mishima”, rearranged from the original string quartet by Forshaw. This was followed by 3 pieces by Moondog, “Dog Trot”, “New Amsterdam” and “Paris” with the addition of a huge bass drum, played by a young woman and a snare drum played by a young man. Angèle joined various members of the ensemble singing on “New Amsterdam” and singing and playing piano with the ensemble on “Paris”.
There was then an interval during which the bass drum and snare drum were removed from the stage.
After the interval the ensemble filed in playing, led by Angèle rhythmically banging a shepherd’s crook on the stage as they followed in step until they reached their places. They then played various pieces (apparently most of it) from Angèle’s album “En Mouvement”, rearranged for 14-piece saxophone ensemble and piano. One piece featured the four clarinets and piano with some playing by some of the remaining saxophones. The sopranino player left the stage for that one. For one piece the ensemble left the stage and the piano was played solo. For another piece she was accompanied by just one soprano, one alto, one tenor and one baritone.
The Glass and Moondog material was all excellent. Of Angèle’s material I’d say 70% was good. A couple of pieces were a bit too much like the preceding ones.
Exquisite harmony playing throughout. Even on the few dull pieces in the second half. Occasional very short solo touches adding to the interest.
A thing that I noticed, which I overheard others talking about afterwards, was how the massed saxophones sounded remarkably like a large string section, with the bass and baritone saxes sounding like bowed basses and the tenors and altos like cellos. With the altos and sopranos also sounding like violas and violins. At times the sopranino sounded like a high trumpet and at other times it seemed like there were horns rather than reed instruments playing.
Rather sparse. The hall was only about 20-30% full. Varied ages between 20s and geriatric like myself. Fairly even mix of male and female. I reckon most of them were fellow music students, friends or relatives of the players. Quiet and well-behaved, as you’d expect in such a place. Appreciative.
It made me think..
I love low-note reed and brass instruments. Trombones, tubas, french horns, euphoniums. Bass & baritone saxophones. Bass clarinets.
I also like minimalism, mostly.
I was really glad I came to this.
Unlikely to see any performances of this again. Not exactly mainstream stuff.