On Thursday 17th March, six of Manchester’s best young composers had their work performed by Derbyshire folk singer Bella Hardy at Manchester’s iconic music venue Band on the Wall. The evening showcased the work of young people who have taken part in Manchester Camerata’s Composer’s Project.
Famed for entwining her hypnotic voice with her own fiddle accompaniment to stunning effect, Bella performed a set featuring old favourites as well as new material from her album ‘Songs Lost & Stolen’, which is due to be released in May.
To complete the evening, Manchester Camerata and soprano Rebecca Lea, conducted by Eduardo Portal, performed Italian composer Luciano Berio’s extraordinary collection of Folk Songs. These transcriptions of songs from around the world are amongst Berio’s most popular and accessible works.
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Six young composers, students at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester University or Chethams School of Music had been commissioned to arrange a traditional song for Bella Hardy to sing, accompanied by the Manchester Camerata ensemble. The musicians this evening played violin, viola, ‘cello, flute, clarinet, harp and percussion.
It was very much an audience of two halves, with each half wondering what the evening would bring. The concert was topped and tailed by a Bella on vocals and fiddles and her musicians – Anna Massie on guitar and Chris Sherburn on concertina. They seemed very relaxed and immediately developed a rapport with the audience. The trio played three songs to open the evening – “Dog and Gun”, a pacy rendition of “Searching for Lambs”, and Bella’s own composition “Full Moon Over Amsterdam”.
The remainder of the first half was taken up with the joint project with the Camerata. Six songs were performed: two very different interpretations of “The Snow it Melts the Soonest”; “Cruel Mother”, “Lowland”, “Where Stormy Winds Do Blow” and “All Things are Quite Silent”. The first arrangement of “Snows” was particularly lovely, with the mood of the accompaniment and instrumental interludes changing to reflect the words. “The Cruel Mother” was a much more challenging listen alternating between the discordant and the lyrical, depicting the range of emotions in the song. In the song “Lowland” the composer was inspired by Bella’s own recording of the song and one could feel the tension between the simple vocal line and complex orchestration. The final piece is in this project was a very unusual arrangement of “All Things Are Quite Silent”, another song Bella has recorded. This one used just two phrases from the song, with long pauses and fragmented instrumental passages. Bella was watching the conductor closely throughout the performance, but if she was nervous, it certainly didn’t show in her voice.
The second half of the concert began with a performance of Berio’s Folk song arrangements for voice and seven instruments. These were expertly sung by soprano Rebecca Lea. The collection includes a couple of familiar songs in English, but also includes songs from Armenia, France, Sicily, Sardinia and Azerbaijan.
Bella’s trio ended the evening with another folk set, two songs and a set of Irish tunes as it was St Patrick’s Day. This lively end to the set meant an encore was inevitable, and this was a stripped down version of “Ten Thousand Miles” with just voice and guitar.The three different treatments of folk song were well received by the mixed audience.
An interesting evening where two musical worlds collided and on the whole, it worked.
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