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MUSIC REVIEW: Frankenstein/ Concert Room, St. Georges' Hall

Opera joins the monster mix with the Neil Campbell Collective

Published on November 5th 2009.

MUSIC REVIEW: Frankenstein/ Concert Room, St. Georges' Hall

NEIL Campbell could never be accused of failing to have grand ambitions. His latest work, described as a 'new classical rock composition', was staged in a grand setting, the elaborate Concert Room at St Georges' Hall. The main piece was preceded by a performance of the now established Ghost Stories.

On this occasion, he was joined by band members Nicole Collarbone (cello), Mark Brocklesby (drums), Chris Bradshaw, (keyboards) and Andy Maslivec (bass), as well as guest soprano Anne Taft and the Sense of Sound choir. Additionally there were visual projections by George Jones and Valeria de Matteo.

The Frankenstein composition has been scored to be performed by an expanded version of the Neil Campbell Collective (Neil’s band) an ensemble which combines the energy and intensity of a rock band with classical instrumentation such as classical guitar, cello and operatic soprano.

This was clearly a complex work to have constructed and co-ordinated. And it worked well - the balance between the widely varying range of voices and instruments was generally good.

The performance begins, unannounced, with a rousing instrumental introduction to 'The Storm'. Anne Taft begins the wordless, haunting vocal theme which will continue to feature throughout the show, then the music swells as the well-co-ordinated voices of the choir join in.

A substantial audience seem to be appreciative, though (by design) there is no applause between each set piece. The story throughout is told by the titles on screen and a pre-recorded narration.

Herein lies a problem. From parts of the auditorium, sections of the screen cannot be seen, due to the design of the stage, which has life-size statues supporting (empty) viewing balconies, obstructing the view. (This also means that either the band or the choir cannot be seen, depending on position of seats).

But also, not a single word of the narrative can be made out. Apparently this is because the sound engineer was unwell so the recordings have to be cued by the already overburdened Campbell. All of this means that it isn't possible to follow the storyline for at least some of the audience (although it is already familiar to most). Luckily the playing is excellent and the singing beautiful. It is a lovely performance to just sit and listen to, and it is clear people are enjoying it.

This is certainly an unusual piece of work. Redolent with echoes of 'prog-rock' (the keyboard player also features in Yes tribute band 'Seyes'), and with the hall echoing with Anne's lovely voice and the searing sound of Nicole's cello, there is a feeling of timelessness about the occasion.

Musically, as a potential classical piece there are some limitations. The memorable thematic melodies are present, but there is not a great deal of development, of rise and fall, of crescendo or climax.

And one niggle: though the Sense of Sound choir are excellent, what on earth is that woman doing cavorting at the front of the stage? Certainly if she is attempting to conduct anything other than the on-screen lightning, no-one up there is even paying her a glance, so this is an unnecessary distraction on a already-crowded stage.

But this is an admirable, impressive undertaking and Neil and his collaborators are generally to be congratulated. There is a sort of 'encore' at the end where the Collective perform what has now become a 'Neil standard', his guitar-technique showcase, 'Rainstorm'. The standing ovation at the end is proof enough that his big plans do pay off. Long may he continue.

Gayna Rose Madder

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Neil CampbellNovember 5th 2009.

As an artist I completely accept that there will be potentially positives and negatives to every review. As the artist in question re this review I accept the praise and the criticism with good grace and I'm happy and grateful that the work is being discussed in whatever terms - and here it is generally positive. I would never normally respond to reviews of my work - it really is not my place. However, I feel it necessary to clarify just one area of contention here and that is re the role of the choral conductor. As far as I am concerned the exemplary work of the person fulfilling that role (i.e. 'the person cavorting at the front of the stage') was essential to the project. She drove the choir through a rigorous process of rehearsal and then guided them through the music on the night to ensure they sounded as a beautiful and cohesive musical unit, ensuring that EVERY choral entry was in the right place and that dynamics were applied elegantly to passages adding whole new layers of drama and emotion to my piece of music. As well as doing this she also was singing in the piece (leading from the front line). The creativity and musicality of her suggestions as we developed this music made a significant impact on the end result and the ability and effort she injected into this work cannot be overstated.

Alicia RoseNovember 5th 2009.

this reads somewhat as an over-penned review, the sheer majestic quality of the show uncaptured in these words.the 'one niggle' especially unnecessary - from my view it was apparent that all choir members were in a continual alert and responsive state to the conductor, which in turn developed the beautiful sound being emitted... a conductor is there to communicate their interpretation of the music and this was done with electric and dynamic quality....the stage was not overcrowded, each performer appeared both comfortable and articulate within their space...well done to The Campbell Collective, Sense of Sound and the Conductor extraordinaire....this event really was proof of grand ambitions being realised and long may it continue because that is what living is all about...

AnonymousNovember 5th 2009.

I think that the piece was fantastic and was very well put together. There was an awful lot of hard work that went into this piece. As for your comment regarding the following: "though the Sense of Sound choir are excellent, what on earth is that woman doing cavorting at the front of the stage? Certainly if she is attempting to conduct anything other than the on-screen lightning, no-one up there is even paying her a glance, so this is an unnecessary distraction on a already-crowded stage.You obviously have no idea of what a conductor is meant to do!!This is a very disrespectful thing to put about somebody, you can not criticise somebody for the role that they perform!!!!

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