Guildhall Jazz Singers: Ellington’s Second Sacred at Milton Court Concert Hall

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Guildhall Jazz Singers: Ellington’s Second Sacred at Milton Court Concert Hall | Live exam

March 24, 2015


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The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is a world-renowned conservatory that has trained the world’s brightest prodigies for over a century. Tonight the Guildhall Jazz Singers take on songs from Duke Ellington’s Second Sacred Concert.GuildHall School at Milton Court Concert Hall

Ellington wrote his hymn to religion at the end of his life while mulling over the death of his close friend and writing partner Billy Strayhorn. Far from being morbid, the music reflects and celebrates life in its imitable big band style which, when filtered through its unwavering love of God, makes it a spiritual experience regardless of your beliefs.

The choir is led by resident teacher Scott Stroman, a charismatic American who brings out the best in his students. His laid back persona sets the tone for a most enjoyable evening by urging audiences to let go of their inhibitions, which are usually amplified in a grand setting like the Milton Court concert hall. It allows students to shine and gain confidence, often putting them on the verge of creating a true improvisation. For most of the concert, he sits proudly and watches the recently graduated Flora Medlicott lead the streamlined choir and big band without a bump. The band are incredibly talented for their age and provide exemplary support to the few dozen singers who each get the chance to perform solo and scat throughout the concert.

Ellington was able to extend his writing to opera for the Sacred series, thanks to a chance encounter with Swedish classical singer Alice Babs; his vocal dexterity on paradise is a feat that deserves its namesake. So when Ines Franco reproduces her acrobatics with such ease, you realize how world class these young musicians are. A virtuoso pianist, Ellington channeled his love for Chopin into short sonatas such as Meditation, played with confidence by pianist Joe Hill – further proof that they deserve this honor.

In addition to using horn lines for vocals and generally trading charts in the great jazz tradition, Stroman took existing melodies and fleshed them out. Hearing a choir in the foreground of this music is reminiscent of certain pieces by Archie Shepp and Pharaoh Sanders with similar esoteric and deeply moving harmonies.

The concert ends with Praise God and dance, which is a technical triumph with the soul. As a reminder, the public has the right to an interpretation of Come sunday from the first sacred concert before leaving the hall in a trance and imbued with a religion of yesteryear.

Nathan Mcilroy
Photos: Erol Birsen

Guildhall Jazz Singers: Ellington’s Second Sacred was a one-off event at Milton Court Concert Hall, for more information on future events visit here.

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