George King, Doreen Edwards and the Manchester Camerata Chamber Strings, Royal Northern College of Music. MJF Originals Commission. Thursday 19th July 2012.
Thursday was the airing of the first of this years MJF Originals commissions, 'Songs of the Caged Bird', a song-cycle by Manchester composer/pianist George King written for Manchester diva Doreen Edwards and the chamber strings of Manchester Camerata.
George opened the evening with four solo piano improvisations that set the mood perfectly for the commission, played to what was an extremely attentive RNCM crowd. George's style is very much on the classical end of the scale, and he delivered some lovely and quite simple improvisations in the vein of Satie and Max Richter. He closed the solo sections with a sweet sparse take on 'Secret Love'
The commissioned piece opened with some long lush chords interspersed with just a few surprising and unsettling tones. This segued in a Steve Reich like rhythmic part before Doreen Edwards came in to add her rich deep voice to the dark descending sequence. George's aim with the commission was to convey a "snapshot or racial tension in America, taking poems and aural accounts" of slaves in the USA. George absorbed these poems and accounts into his piece as a series of audio samples overlaid on the music at various points throughout the piece, giving an overall quite cinematic feel.
Generally the sections were very melodic and accessible, with some beautiful long chords played out by the strings. A fewer darker moments were conveyed by train like rhythms and harder harmony. Particularly impressive was a re-setting of 'Strange Fruit', Doreen singing a verse very movingly on her own, the strings and piano then coming in for a second verse to give the melody a somewhat unexpected twist. I think George could have made more of the piece's darker moments, but this was a warm and very satisfying evening's music.