Fringe Box



Review: GIMF – Symphonova Orchestra, Shelly Katz – Electric Theatre

Published on: 9 Mar, 2013
Updated on: 10 Mar, 2013

by The Stage Dragon

Look, no bands!

Shelley Katz with his electronic orchestra

Opening the Guildford International Music Festival (GIMF) with an electronic orchestra was a brave move, a sign of austere times and perhaps a nod to the future.

Conductor Shelley Katz’s has developed a method of using pre-recorded instrumental sounds that a conductor can control in performance, when he combines those sounds with some live performers on stage. So I must admit to a quiet chuckle when I read the GIMF strapline “Celebrating Live Music.”

The choice of programme was challenging. Strauss’ Four Last Songs requires a large body of musicians to conjure up an atmosphere of pathos and a distinctive ethereal sound.  We heard a hundred or so great musicians supporting star soprano Diana Gilchrist, but there was only space for four on stage – the talented Hieronymus String Quartet (Yolanda Bruno, Hun-Ouk Park, Elitsa Bogdanova and Vladimir Waltham).

Acting as section leaders of a large electronic string section they gave visual focus to the platform while wind, brass and percussion sounds came from loudspeakers surrounding them.

On this occasion, their electronic colleagues did not match the quartet’s abilities.  The orchestral effect was muffled and unclear, and although the intonation was absolutely perfect, woodwind solos were almost completely lost in an organ-like mix that proved a distraction rather than offering background support to the soloist.

Occasionally one might just hear a horn melody or a trilling flute, but such moments were few – magic was in short supply.  The electronic control system seems to require firm movement from the baton, so starts and stops could be problematic: the gentle opening of Im Abendrot came with quite a bump, and the ending that normally disappears into nothing had a firm cut-off and an abrupt stop. In an age of outstanding domestic HDTV and hi-fi, this was a somewhat disappointing experience.

Flautist Dr Abigail Dolan plays Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto

Flautist Dr Abigail Dolan plays Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto

Hearing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto played on flute was different. Ably performed by Dr Abigail Dolan, the arrangement worked well and even though some of those magical violin harmonics were missing, the overall effect was pleasing. The orchestral support was a little unpredictable – mostly too quiet, occasionally too loud – perhaps a few refinements were needed.

This festival-opening concert was, however, breaking new ground. It was the first time the Symphonova Orchestra had performed to a paying public, and Dr Katz has produced something with huge potential.

He could develop its use to good effect – opera/ballet productions in small venues and/or on tight budgets; conducting classes; instrumental competitions; etc. But the Musicians’ Union should have no worries for a while, and GIMF can continue to celebrate live music.

Guildford International Music Festival continues to celebrate live music with the Brodsky Quartet at Holy Trinity Church tonight (Saturday, March 9) and tomorrow (Sunday, March 10) with a Guitar Day at the University of Surrey. Other performances continue until March 24 – download a brochure here:

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