Sunday, 17 April 2011

Edward Scull and Exeter Chamber Choir in Concert: Romance of the Marimba Friday 16 April

The headline: Marimba Player Edward Scull
(with talented musical partner, soprano Tara Mathew)

Following weeks of mounting excitement, a capacity audience filled the Church of St Peter, Shaldon, for a very rare performance of virtuoso music for the solo marimba.  21 year old Edward Scull, whose home is in Shaldon, and who is studying for a specialist music degree in percussion at the Royal College of Music, played a total of ten outstanding pieces by modern composers for marimba - and a surprise encore of his own composition with very special relevance to the concert.  The Exeter Chamber Choir also performed seven glorious choral works appropriate to the occasion.

Co-stars: The Exeter Chamber Choir
Conducted by Andrew Daldorph
(The 'red balloon' is a shrouded lenten cross.)
The concert was opened by Roger Kirk, founder of the Helen Foundation.  Roger and his wife Annie have been raising money to support young people to develop their talents in all fields of the arts - visual art, sculpture, drama, poetry and, of course, music.  All proceeds and donations from the concert go to further this work.  Edward was very keen to perform to raise money for the foundation, which has supported him and his colleagues in their careers.  The concert also served as a memorial to Roger's daughter Helen Elizabeth, a very promising actress, who was tragically killed in a road traffic collision on Boxing Day in 2005.  The concert marked the fifth anniversary of the foundation being set up in her name.

In a slight change from the advertised programme, Edward started with 'Eravie' by Alexej Garassinez - the same piece we played to open his interview on Phonic FM on Tuesday.  There was no confusion, however, as Garassinez' piece is very distinctive and instantly recognisable.  However, to be in an auditorium with a marimba is quite different from listening on the radio.  The gentle bass tremolo, which was inaudible on the station play-out, gave out a penetrating hum which was intriguing and disconcerting.  With incredible skill Edward developed the melody with the two mallets in his right hand, while the two in his left slowly increased the volume of the tremolo until the bass resonators were giving out a glorious sound like a church organ.  The sound and visceral effect of  the marimba, in the hands of an expert like Edward, create a unique musical experience which has to be heard live to be fully appreciated.

For Chinese composer Lin Chin Cheng's 'April Sky', and Ivan Trevino's 'Memento', the red headed mallets which had produced the bass rumble were systematically replaced by blue, and then white.  Clearly made of material of increasing hardness, these introduced a clear ringing melody.  The sweet legato sound was enhanced by the subtle variations in the timbre of the natural wood of the marimba keys.  This is the bass xylophone taken to a new level.

After the three movements of 'Memento' (all of which received a round of applause - we shouldn't, but couldn't help it!) Edward gave up the stage to the Exeter Chamber Choir.  Andrew Daldorph conducted them in a beautiful choral work by Polish composer Henryk Górecki.  Górecki is best known for his overwhelmingly successful 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs' written as a memorial to the suffering of Poles and others under the Third Reich.  'Totus Tuus' ('Totally Yours') was composed, while Górecki was still a relatively obscure composer, for Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland in 1987.  The gentle harmonic variations on the repeated cry to the virgin Mary, "Maria", is utterly entrancing.  When Andrew called for half volume the sweet whisper of "Maria" was delicate and affecting, the perfect compliment to the preceding music on the marimba.

The Choir also performed two of Michael Tippett's beautiful arrangements of traditional songs.  The spiritual, 'Nobody knows the trouble I've seen', made famous by Louis Armstrong (and recently revived by local baritone Iain McDonald), was given a whole new lease of life in this beautiful a cappella version under Andrew's direction.

Edward then took us to the interval with two more beautiful marimba pieces.  First another work by Lin Chin Cheng, 'Wind', which built on a simple and beautiful four note motif with one 'red' mallet maintaining a soft deep ululation in the bass.  'The Green Road' was written by Mark Ford, under whom Edward has had the privilege to study.  A new compound in the mallet heads (navy blue with red piping!) gave a loud staccato sound for a piece describing the changing outlooks and seasons on 'The Green Road'.

Edward explains the finer points of the marimba to the Aldermen of Shaldon
After a relaxed interval, during which the audience could enjoy refreshments in the adjoining church hall, or chat with Edward about the fascinating marimba, Edward returned to the stage for another three movement work, this time by the now familiar Chinese composer Lin Chin Chen.  'Kaleidoscope' starts with 'Pray for a Wish' which opens with repeated peals of notes like the change ringing of bells, leading into impressively skilful glissandi.  For 'Café without Sugar' Edward upped his game even further, by increasing the number of mallets from four to five - three in his right hand for an even more complex melody.  But 'Café without Sugar' was no showboating piece.  Gentle and restrained, it had a delightlfully restful and dreamy quality.  Edward switched back to hard heads for 'Fresh Expectations', a fast and furious movement finishing with an impressive flourish.  In the ensuing applause Edward's father Robert, who must have heard Edward practice this piece many times, had only one comment, "He nailed it!"  He certainly did!

In keeping with the spirit of a memorial concert for Helen Kirk, Edward then played the very moving 'Tune for Mary O' composed in Irish folk style by American percussionist Rich O'Meara as a memorial to Mary O'Meara.  The long reflective passages were played softly and with perfect control, showing just the right deference for the memory of 'Mary O'.  A gentle tremolo led to a sudden end, which was self-explanatory.

The memorial theme was continued by Andrew Daldorph and the Exeter Chamber Choir.  The swelling baroque harmonies of Claudio Monteverdi's 'Christus Adoramus Te' were delightfully contrasted with the very simple but gently moving African-American spiritual, 'Kumbaya', arranged by Andrew himself.  The gentle opening with humming undercurrent built to an impassioned fortissimo before returning to a soft reprise.  Although "Kumbaya" appears to be a rather irreverent West Country expression exhorting God to "come over here!", it has a rather more exotic pedigree.  First sung by the African-American inhabitants of the Sea Islands of the south east coast of the US, "Kumbaya" is a Creole word meaning - exactly what we think it does!

The Choir completed their choral contribution with Josef Rheinberger's evening hymn 'Abendlied', with which they began and ended their previous concert in Crediton so movingly.  Before that, however, by a very apposite coincidence, the choir had, quite fortuitously, chosen to include the Christmas chant of responses 'O Magnum Mysterium' in an arrangement by Morten Lauridsen.  Annie and Roger Kirk, and many members of the audience, were especially moved by this - the same piece by Lauridsen had been sung at Helen Kirk's funeral, in the same building, five years before.  The soft and lyrical singing of the choir was particularly poignant for all those who remembered that sad day.

The very last item on the programme, 'With You', to be played by Edward, was credited to his new musical partner in London, soprano Tara Mathew.  Tara is originally from Oak Lake in Manitoba, and was recognised at an early age as an extremely talented singer, being awarded the title 'Most Oustanding Jazz Soloist' and singing to tens of thousands of people at the Canadian and Pan-Am Games alongside Celine Dion.  More recently she has been living in Toronto, former home of the big daddy of all Canadian musicians, Sir Ernest MacMillan.  For several years now Tara has been using her wonderful talent, and generosity of spirit, to support education and health programmes in India.  Edward and Tara are billed to appear together at the Embassy in Mayfair on 18th May for a collaborative concert which promises to be spectacular.

The incredibly glamorous soprano Tara Mathew
It was a great surprise and thrill, therefore, when Tara herself appeared and joined Edward on the stage.  Edward played with as much energy and emotion as before, but now his playing perfectly complemented Tara's extraordinary singing voice.  Taking her place at centre stage in a stunning silver satin dress, Tara built the song to a crescendo of moving and spiritual sound, blending perfectly with the music of Edward's marimba.  In a plaintive, pleading, legato she took the words to the extremes of emotion.  This surprise addition to the programme was a very special treat for us all!

Again slightly out of programme order, Edward finished the whole programme in style with another work by Lin Chin Chen.  'Flying', according to Edward's introduction, is a piece which is continuously changing and evolving, but still remaining the same piece.  This is a very charming work, building in volume by steps while delicately repeating the modular motif.  A very lovely piece to finish on.

Naturally everyone wondered whether there would be an encore.  Edward surprised us all, and particularly Annie and Roger, by returning to the stage to play his own composition - an Elegy to Helen Kirk.  Edward's work was a very special piece, complex and engaging, and bringing out the full resonance of his instrument.  Roger was visibly moved as he gave the closing address, holding in his hand the recording of the Elegy which Edward had prepared for him.

In his closing words Roger spoke passionately about the need to secure the future of the next generation of creative talent, in all of the arts.  In the current political climate is of reduction and degradation of support for young artists, The Helen Foundation exists to provide a secure and reliable means of supporting all creative and performing arts into the future.  As part of that effort Andrew Daldorph and the Exeter Chamber Choir, percussionist Edward Scull, and soprano Tara Mathew, all gave their time and talent freely on Friday night so that all proceeds (and the many generous additional donations) could go to the Foundation.  Many thanks to everyone involved.  Friday's concert not only made a great contribution to very important work, but was also a spectacularly enjoyable evening of entertainment!

(Full details about The Helen Foundation can be found at )

Victor Borge had the right idea!
Edward dismantles the marimba with help from father Robert
After the concert there was the elaborate and fascinating business of dismantling the marimba for transportation back to London.  Edward, along with Andrew Daldorph and Tara Mathew, chatted informally with audience members as a very enjoyable evening drew to a close.

A further  collaboration between Edward and the Exeter Chamber Choir is planned for Saturday 7th May.  In an unprecedented line-up, the East Devon Choral Society Choir and the Exeter Chamber Choir will perform Sir Edward Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'.  There will be three wonderful vocal soloists, including the mezzo soprano voice of Frances Bourne, and a full orchestra with, as a very special additional extra, the percussion playing of Edward Scull on four state of the art timpani.  This is concert to get to at all costs!

('The Dream of Gerontius' is a choral work of grandeur and emotion comparable with the recently performed St John Passion.  Gerontius foreseeing his imminent death prays to Jesus and Mary for redemption before his soul is led by angels, priests and 'assistants' to judgement before the divine throne - and descent into purgatory.  With the full complement of orchestra and two choirs, this will be a very special experience!)

The next big thing:
Edward unveils the magnificent timpani
he will play in Exeter Chamber Choir's
performance of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'
East Devon Choral Society
Exeter Chamber Choir
St Paul's Church Tiverton
Saturday 7 May 7.30pm
Sir Edward Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius

Full symphony orchestra
conducted by Andrew Daldorph
Mezzo-Soprano: Frances Bourne
Tenor: Iain Milne
Bass: James Arthur
Tickets: Main Aisle £15, other £10 (U16 £6)
EDCS Box Office: 01884 840054
Tiverton Information Centre 01884 255827
Details: 01884 253494

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