I had high expectations when I was asked to review this charming event, having attended many a MusSoc concert. This semester brings about the much anticipated ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ and they pulled it off with style!
The University Big Band kicked things off, starting in the States with Jerry Gray’s String of Pearls at 19.00. This was then followed by an energetic Charleston, and Shiny Stockings. The conductor, Matthew Johnson, threw himself into the pieces with gusto and a few self deprecating remarks. His flamboyant style is always a hit and his band ably followed him as he switched from conducting to playing.
Not content with just taking us around the world, he also invited us to time travel with him. We went from the Gatsby era of the early 20s to the 1950s, where he explained that the times were all about: “playing what you feel, and not just playing notes and chords.” This was demonstrated by Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soul, featuring some stunning solos from Katherine Fraser and Ryo Yanagida. The next stop was a more contemporary Strasbourg St Denis, followed by the Harlem Nocturne. Introduced as a Big Band Classic, Tuxedo Junction was the next piece, with a rather quirky ending. Big BUSTA’s final song was named Harry Splatter. Matthew wanted to “take us somewhere magical” and this mix up of Harry Potter themes was just the ticket.
The interval brought the interactive part of the evening – the chance to head on down and try some of the instruments on offer. I spoke to a few parents who had brought along their primary school-aged children, who seemed to be having a whale of a time.
It was now time for the Wind Band to come onstage. Dressed in costumes from around the world (think sombreros, berets and tartan galore), we were promised “a lot of cheese.” The set began with conductor Ryo Yanagida booking our ticket from the States to Japan. He led the band in a rousing Chicago mix, Accolada, and highlights from My Neighbour Toronto.
Danielle Harper followed, clad in a sombrero and poncho, with a Spanish pasodoble; Don Ricardo, and Inchon (a piece based on the Korean war that “begins with the waves of the ocean, the serenity of the beach and all of a sudden helicopters appear. The middle is a peaceful Korean prayer”, after which the helicopters leave and peace is restored). She finished her set with the promised cheesiness of a ‘hot Latin’ mashup that included Mambo No 5.
It was now the turn of Kerr Barrack to “take us to Mexico City…Puerto Rico and then back to Europe, where we’ll certainly be thankful for the music!” This, of course, was a thinly veiled hint at the Abba rendition that was to come. The band played Children of Sanchez, El Cumbanchero (which had a great drum solo) and selections from Mamma Mia. All in all, it was a great night. The 80 or so musicians involved were fabulous, the song choices were perfect, and the audience certainly enjoyed themselves!