Nitin Sawhney & the Britten Sinfonia – Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 27th November

This tour, of Sawhney and the Sinfonia, was concluded this evening in front of one of the most culturally and generationally diverse audiences that the Symphony Hall can have ever held. Pink hair next to turban next to dreads next to white hair and it certainly seemed that everyone went away happy. And the programme was diverse too: starting with clapping music by Steve Reich and including a mixture of Sawhney’s own compositions, many from his album “Prophesy” as well as pieces by other composers. Indian and western musicians led some tracks and complemented the Sinfonia – especially Chandru on the violin. This style is very different from western violin and for some tracks, the Sinfonia strings adopted the style which made for some very interesting music. Mixed in with this all was flamenco guitar and electric piano from Sawhney and flavours of Brazilian music too. The final piece was “The classroom” in three movements, which Sawhney had composed recently for the Sinfonia. The third movement especially was an exceptional blend of all the styles and musicians on stage.

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Overall this was a remarkable evening. Nitin Sawhney has been described as a true renaissance man in his talent and range, venturing into many genres and styles in music alone and it was nice to see this kind of eclecticism really working. The danger is, of course, that some styles will not mix and the result will either be bland or a horrible cacophony. On one track the latter condition was touched upon as every musician on stage – piano, orchestra, vocalists, Indian instruments and western drum kit and bass- were all going for it. Thankfully this was the exception rather than the rule. With so much activity on stage there was hardly time to pay attention to the visuals. Large screens either side of the stage showed close up images of the musicians, mixed live with pre-recorded footage of other scenes. The filming was very discrete but the whole effect seemed to be gilding the lily. As a live event this was a fascinating evening, demonstrating how musical styles can and should sometimes be taken out of their boxes and shaken around.


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