Tubular Brass and Hannah Peel brought soaring emotion to the Philharmonic recently. The Waveform Transmitter’s Ste Knight was there to absorb the stellar performances.
You know how sometimes a performance unexpectedly takes you by surprise by its own magnitude and the manner in which it affects you at the time? Surely that has happened to pretty much everyone, who reads The Waveform Transmitter, at one point or another.
Such an occasion came about recently when I attended The Philharmonic to see Edinburgh’s Tubular Brass perform composer and conductor Sandy Smith‘s reinterpretation of Mike Oldfield‘s seminal electronic work, Tubular Bells. Sandy and the band were incredible, but first, let me talk about Hannah Peel.
Admittedly, Hannah is an artist who, before tonight, I knew very little about. I was aware of her involvement in The Magnetic North via my Father (hi Dad!) but aside from that my knowledge of the Craigavon artist was non-existent. This is a lack of foresight that I have sought to correct since witnessing her performance of the stunning Mary Casio: Journey to Casseopeia, her most recent work, on the same evening.
The album, Hannah told us, was written based upon how she interprets the experiences undergone by her grandmother, who suffered from dementia. At this point I realised this was to be a deeply personal work, but at no point did I expect it to be so achingly beautiful. As I write this now, I am still feeling the same surge of emotion and welling in the eyes that I felt on the night.
Mary Casio is a work in seven parts. Playing out synthesised phrases on her Roland Juno and additional keyed instruments, Hannah took us on an adventure. Well, three adventures. One to Casseopeia, one into the mind of her grandmother, and one into our very own hearts, minds, and souls.
Assisted by the exquisitely performed brass instrumental sections, Hannah gifted us soaring swells of electronic sound, occasionally using her voice as an instrument – something that added a haunting ethereal quality to the recital. As the performance went on, I realised we were getting closer and closer to our celestial destination. Still holding back tears.
The climax of the composition was a genuine exaltation. We were thrust into the atmosphere of Cassiopeia, swirling synth lines sending us spinning and twisting across the soundscape as our terminus was realised with a cataclysmic uproar of sound and emotion.
I’m going to lay my soul bare a little, at this juncture, but the aim of this is only to further the narrative of this review. As a sufferer of generalised anxiety disorder, I felt that Hannah‘s concept not only represented her grandmother, which I have absolutely no doubt that it did, but I feel it was representative of many mental health disorders suffered by people across the world on a daily basis.
Using the space theme has been a clever construct by Peel. The emptiness and vastness of the great beyond gives way to a feeling of loneliness, something that dementia sufferers must experience continuously. Similarly, others who live with mental health issues feel it too. You can have all the support, love, and warmth you could ever need. But the solitude experienced from sonething that resides only in your own mind should never be underestimated. I am quite certain that many members of the audience will agree.
That is not to say that the composition Hannah performed was a sombre affair. It was quite the opposite. Uplifting, graceful, and exquisite would be three adjectives that immediately spring to mind. It is just that I felt that her music explored certain themes that may be considered melancholic in one way or another.
Hannah‘s performance this evening touched my soul in so many ways, and I am in no doubt that there were other audience members left reeling by the intensity and relatability of the musical message set out before us this evening.
After a short interval, we returned to our seats, recomposed (in my case, anyway) and ready for Tubular Brass to give their rendition of Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells.
Prior to the event, I had wondered how such an electronic masterpiece would translate to brass instruments. I received my answer, but not before the composer of this particular version of Oldfield‘s classic, Sandy Smith informed us that he had painstakingly rescored the entire original part by part, assigning each minute section to the brass instruments he felt were most befitting.
This process took him four years. Four years during which he wrestled with one enduring, nagging worry. That this wouldn’t work in translation. That people would listen to his version and question it. I am pleased to report that Sandy‘s tribulations were not in vain.
His interpretation of the electronic classic was beyond superb. The instruments chosen through which to convey the various elements of the original were perfect. All were brass, save for percussion, which included glockenspiel, drums, and the tubular bells themselves.
From the moment the all too recognisable arpeggio which opens Tubular Bells Part One kicked in, it was clear that Smith had hit the mark. At times it seemed like we weren’t actually listening to brass instruments at all, some of them sounding authentically like the original, so precise was Sandy‘s unpicking and re-weaving of Oldfield’s tapestry.
Part Two continued this theme, with stirring individual parts played solo by various members of the band, announced by Hannah Peel, who had made a brief return to the stage to inform us of which instrument was being played.
As the performance drew to a close, we were treated to renditions of several prog rock classics, including tracks by Genesis and finishing on ELP‘s version of Aaron Copeland‘s stunning Fanfare for the Common Man.
All in all, the evening was one of the most enjoyable events I have experienced outside of a club environment for a very long time. It would be fair to say that it transcends many of my clubbing experiences over the past twenty years in terms of raw emotion. Sandy Smith, Hannah Peel, and the Tubular Brass Band, I salute you.