Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Festive Flutes 'Overnight Sensations' Concert: First Performance Thurlestone Saturday 17 Sept Second Performance Tavistock Sunday 18 Sept

'Festive Flutes'
Joss Campbell, Melanie Orriss, Elizabeth Walker, Sarah Murphy
The 'Festive Flutes' are a delightfully entertaining quartet of woodwind players including a familiar Devon orchestral flautist, Melanie Orriss. In addition to orchestral work Mel loves to get together with three other flute players from her alma mater (The Guildhall School of Music) to create and play their favourite music - many of the pieces arranged for four flutes by Mel herself.
The musical connection between the members of Festive Flutes goes back even further than college. Mel met Joss Campbell when they were both aspiring sixteen year olds at Chetham's School of Music, and Elizabeth Walker and Sarah Murphy were only twelve when they met at the Royal College of Music Junior Academy.

This long association comes across in the way the players complement each other musically, and in their shared sense of fun and adventure. Their concerts can always be relied upon to take us on a journey of excitement and discovery.

On 15th December last year these four fabulous flautists gave a benefit concert for the NSPCC at the Exeter Cathedral Chapter House. On a frosty winter day they put us all in a festive mood with seasonal music including 'Winter' from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' and 'The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' From Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite' - beautifully arranged for four flutes by Mel Orriss. Their comedy number 'Santa Baby', played in costume - and in character, was perhaps the most entertaining part of all! (Full details? - here)

The Festive Flutes create a sensation at St Eustachius Church, Tavistock
Mel Orriss - alto, Sarah Murphy - 'C', Liz Walker - piccolo, Joss Campbell - Bass
We have had to wait a while, but this week saw the welcome return of the 'Festive Flutes' to Devon. On Saturday evening they played a music society concert at Thurlescombe in South Devon, and on Sunday they gave a repeat performance at the Church of St Eustacius in Tavistock.

Their concert came as the perfect end to a day of festivities. 20th September is the annual Festival of St Eustachius. What better way to finish of the Patronal Festival than with four Festive Flutes!

In an unconscious reference to our weekly ' Classical Journey' on Phonic FM they opened with our original theme tune - The Overture to Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro'. A thrilling start to any musical adventure, the overture in Mel's flute arrangement was especially exhilarating, the piercing and emotive high notes contrasting deliciously with the deep and langorous bass line, creating just the right mood of excited anticipation.

After their trademark 'reshuffle' and exchange of instruments, Joss Campbell opened a medley of songs from Georges Bizet's opera 'Carmen' - this time arranged for flutes by their old college friend Jason Carr. Liz Walker provided the provocative bass continuo for a truly seductive 'Habanera'

For Arthur Sullivan's 'The Sun Whose Rays (are all ablaze)', from the 1885 Gilbert and Sullivan Opera 'The Mikado', Mel took up the big bass flute. 'A cold piece of plumbing' she called it, but in her hands it's sound was very very warm and restful, and very controlled, sustaining just the right mood for this sensuous celebration of beauty - and vanity.

Was this to be an evening of classical opera? Not a bit of it. Next came Jason Carr's arrangement of 'James Bond' theme tunes ('Licence to Trill') - all familiar but beautifully transposed for four flutes. Each player got a solo. Mel got to be Shirley Bassey in 'Goldfinger', while Liz (now holding the bass flute) followed up with Monty Norman's original theme. Mel and Sarah joined forces for the unmistakable sound of 'Live and Let Die'. To die for!

Carrying on the film theme, but now with a classical flavour, Mel had prepared a flute arrangement of the adagio from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto - as played by The Academy of St Martin in the Fields for the movie 'Out of Africa'. (NB we can hear the Academy playing live at Dartington on Sunday afternoon 30th October! - go to concert listings for details - jump) With Liz playing the melody over Sarah's continuo, and a special alto solo by Mel, this piece flowed like liquid gold. "I had a farm in Africa . . . "

Henry Mancini's 'On the Trail of the Pink Panther' needs very little introduction. On four flutes it's something very special. Liz and Joss somehow managed to provide the familiar jazz percussion using flutes, and the audince needed need little encouragement to join in as well!

Mel seems to have an almost unlimited appetite for movie themes, and their potential for use in a flute quartet. In fact she is on the look out for projects to keep her going this winter. If anyone wants to send her any suggestions - You could hear your own personal favourite some day soon. For example, the next piece was a request from Liz who simply adores Bergman and Legrand's 'Papa Can You Hear Me? as sung by Barbara Streissand in the 1983 film 'Yendl'.

Mel's arrangement beautifully expressed the sentiment of Isaac Beshevis Singer's original short story, 'Yendl the Yeshiva Boy'. Poor Yendl, craving the intellectual stimulation of the Hebrew Yeshiva school, she defies Hebrew tradition by pretending to be a boy to join that all male institution. Can even her father forgive her? Very moving, especially in this unforgettable flute arrangement - heart-rending.

The group had prepared something light to bring us down to earth after the emotional tumult of Yendl - but then disaster struck. The alto flute developed a fault. The essential G key would not operate properly. 'Is there a doctor in the house?' By happy chance Michael Wood of 'Jessica Rance Woodwind Instrument Repairs' at Thornmoor Cross had come down from Launceston to hear the quartet play. He didn't have his tools, but during an early interval he was able to free the G key, get the alto back into action, and rescue the concert!

The quartet returned for Mel's arrangement from her own personal favourite. "The Wizard of Oz". Judy Garland as we've never heard her before! Mel had reinvented Arlen and Harburg's 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and 'If Only I Had a Brain/If Only I Had a Heart/If Only I Had the Nerve'.

'Somewhere over the Rainbow' was sweet and delightful as the original, and for 'If Only . . . ' we were treated once again to wonderful comedy characters. Sarah, in felt hat with straw in her hair, was the scarecrow yearning for a human brain. Liz, as tin-man complete with silver funnel helmet, craved a human brain. Finally Mel, skulking in from the wings in an extraordinary lion costume (Please can we have a photo of that Mel?), played her own solo begging for an ounce of courage.

A brilliant performance all round. Joss had no costume, but she must have been Dorothy Gale - complete with magic shoes!

Clearing up, especially getting the straw out of Sarah's hair, took some time (this is when we would have had the interval), but before long all was ready for something completely different. The Festive Flutes are rightly remembered for their scintillating interpretation of Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite'. With three piccolo flutes in place of the traditional celeste they produce a startlingly nimble dance. The opening hops between bass flute and piccolo are quite mesmerising.

Although capable of incredibly high and sweet notes, the piccolo also has a surprisingly deep range, which is equally beautiful. Mel's arrangement of the overture and the acrobatic 'Dance of the Reed Pipes' used the range to full effect.

Shostakovich's Ballet Suite may not be quite so well known as Tchaikovsky's, but Mel made it supremely memorable in her flute version. The 'Lyrical Waltz' was very lyrical and the 'Romance' was irresistably romantic. The 'Waltz-Scherzo', with the continuo cleverly split between Joss and Mel, was no joke - rather a real tour de force!

Mel had even prepared Walton's 'Facade' for flute. Although rarely heard these days we did have a performance here in Devon just before the Festive Flutes last visit. Lympstone Entertainments brought in John Welton's 'Clarion Clarinet Quartet' (minus Barry Parsons) and a host of local musicians for a performance of the whole suite at a concert called 'Verses and Music' on 27th November. Ruth Avis was flautist on that occasion and was seen feverishly alternating between flute and piccolo as she followed a very difficult score. Meanwhile Tony Hindley was doing likewise with trumpet and piccolo trumpet!

Without the traditional megaphone narration or percussion, the flute reigned on Sunday night. For 'Popular Song and Tango' the only narration was a series of hisses, kisses, sneezes and petulant stamps of the feet from the performers, which told us all we needed to know, and complemented the music perfectly. Mel's controlled crescendo in the 'Yodelling Song' led perfectly to the falsetto high notes - on the piccolo of course. The final 'Tarantella' was a mesmerising delirium of feverish dance - enormous fun for players and audience.

Opera, movies, ballet, poetry - what's next? - Musicals!  The first Broadway classic was a piece of 'Festive Flutes' history. While they were all still at college, fellow student Jason Carr wrote an arrangement of a musical number for them to play on 'Bob Says Opportunity Knocks' (the 1987 revival of Hughie Green's original, hosted by Bob Monkhouse). Incredibly they lost out to one of the other acts (outrage). One Mark Mudd (who has since reappeared as a candidate on 'American Idol') took the prize, but the 'Flutes' were given a consolation spot of 30 seconds, for which Jason prepared a special arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee' from his opera 'The Tale of Tsar Saltan' - a very complicated piece, to be performed in bumblebee costumes - surely a sign of things to come!

Their first musical number, which so nearly opened the door of opportunity, was Cole Porter's 'I Love Paris', made famous in the 1953 Broadway musical 'Can-Can' and the 1960 film of the same name. Originally the theme of the movie, The song was made famous by the film's star, Frank Sinatra, who sang it on the sound-track album. Jason's arrangement cleverly weaves in another Cole Porter song which featured in the film - 'Let's do it (let's fall in love)'. Who could forget that?  A lovely light-hearted piece showcasing the skill and emotion of all four players.

The 'musicals' theme continued. In 1993 Randy Newman reworked Johann Goethe's classic play in the musical 'Faust'. Not quite a Broadway spectacular, 'Faust' opened at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. One memorable song from Newman's musical version was 'Sandman's coming', which built on the sandman character in 1954 song by Pat Ballard and The Four Aces, and was performed in the original musical by Randy himself with Linda Ronstadt.

For their album 'Overnight Sensations' the Festive Flutes included athe lyric, sung by Elanor Maynell. On Sunday Mel provided the vocal line - on flute of course. How did it make us feel? - lovely and sleepy!

Speaking of Chicago, at one of the group's recent rehearsals Mel and Sarah discovered their shared love for one musical in particular, 'Chicago'. Based on the play from 1926, this story of the windy city in the era of prohibition, gangs and corruption became a hit musical on Broadway in 1975. Revived in the late nineties, it was made into a movie in 2002.

Infected by Sarah's enthusiasm, Mel immediately set about cleverly rearranging John Ebb's scores for the songs 'All that Jazz' and 'Me and my Baby'. Her version of 'All that Jazz' is very lively, and the alto part - taken on by Joss Campbell for Sunday's concert - holds it together beautifully. 'Me and My Baby' is very fast and Mel and Sarah shared parts of the melody line with incredible coordination.

Over a period of just two hours the 'Festive Flutes' had given us a lot to think about. Sean Sweeney, the Director of Music at St Eustachius put our feelings into words in his heartfelt thanks to four exceptional musicians. We were all wondering, of course, whether they would return to the stage for just one more 'flute fantastic'. To everyone's delight they reappeared and began to play - 'So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night . . . ' from 'The Sound of Music'. One by one they left us, just like the Von Trapp children.  Joss bobbed a curtsey first and slipped away. Then Liz ran from the stage. Finally Sarah made her sober exit still playing her bass flute. Only Mel remained at the end sitting on the props basket playng mournfully on her tiny piccolo flute (although the other instruments could still be heard playing on at the back of the church.)

What a finish! And what a wonderful evening of music - a gloriously festive end to a great Devon festival. Of course, it really was 'farewell'. The four flautists went their separate ways. Mel is the local player working and teaching from Okehampton. Joss and Liz live in London, while Sarah comes all the way from Derry in Norther Ireland to bring her own special talent to the quartet. Despite the logisitical difficulties, we hope they will be able to get together for a concert or two in Devon again before too long. We may even be lucky enough to see and hear them in Exeter again some time. I certainly hope so!

So long, farewell . . . but come back soon!
In order that we might relive the delights of the 'Overnight Sensations' tour, the Festive Flutes have put together a CD recording including the numbers we heard on Sunday. There's a bonus track as well - 'Embraceable You' by George Gershwin.

Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite' plus Vivaldi's 'Winter' and 'Santa Baby', together with a generous selection of seasonal favourites, are all recorded on their 'Christmas Crackers' CD.

The two CDs are available from (and £5 from each purchase goes directly to NSPCC).

Elizabeth Walker is also well known as a baroque orchestral flautist. She has played with several of the great baroque orchestras, whose music has featured on the 'Classical Journey' many times. Among others she has played with 'The Sixteen', 'The English Concert' and 'The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment'. OAE are, of course, well known in Devon where they hold performance workshops for South West Music School students at Dartington. (See 'Young Musicians Showcase' Sunday 9 January 2011.) OAE also performed 'A Celebration of Handel' at Dartington Great Hall on 29th May (snapshot).

Elizabeth appears on the New London Consort recording of Matthew Locke's 1675 Opera, 'Psyche', and London Classical Players' 'Water Music' and 'Music for the Royal Fireworks' by George Frederic Handel.

Her solo albums include Twelve Fantasias for Flute by Georg Philipp Telemann (two of which Ruth Avis has played so memorably on the 'Classical Journey' programmes!) and her July 2011 release, Five Flute Sonatas by Johan Sebastian Bach.

Copies are available from the usual outlets or from Liz's own website, or contact Liz herself:

Listen out for extracts on the 'Classical Journey'!

But, to really appreciate the sheer presence and personality of this superb ensemble, you can't beat a live performance. So let's hope they can manage a return visit soon!

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