Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The visual element is so strong, designed to move and breathe with the music

Birdsong

Sinfonia Cymru , Wyeside Arts Centre Buith Wells , June-03-18
Birdsong  by Sinfonia Cymru Sinfonia Cymru haven't visited this part of Wales for a few years, there was a time when the full orchestra were regular visitors to Llandrindod Wells, appearing at The Pavilion (called simply that when under municipal management), they came with classical orchestral works, sometimes including concerti with illustrious soloists such as pianist, Llyr Williams. This was a fabulous treat for local music lovers, especially as the acoustics of the venue are perfect for concerts. But sadly, Mid Wales publicity "machines" didn't do their best for the band, audiences were not big enough and they stopped coming. So it was wonderful to welcome them again to the area, this time appearing at Builth Wells' Wyeside Arts Centre on the 11th May for a concert entitled "Birdsong" or "Cān yr Adar".

This wasn't the full orchestra but rather a chamber ensemble of an unusual kind. In recent years Sinfonia Cymru, a young and highly professional outfit, have been combining full scale classical concerts with more experimental collaborations at Tramshed Tech in Cardiff, as part of their "Curate" initiative - projects that are musician led - of which performances are also streamed, so that you can watch them "live" on Facebook as well as at the venue.

But "Cān yr Adar" is a stand alone collaboration, this time between the impossibly young and talented Welsh-Barbadian (or Bajan) singer-song writer, Kizzy Crawford and the astonishingly gifted young pianist-composer, Gwilym Simcock, with a small chamber ensemble from Sinfonia Cymru comprising two fiddles, viola, cello, flute and french horn, with Simcock on concert grand piano and Crawford playing guitar and, of course, singing. The work is inspired by and passively involves RSPB Carngafallt, an ancient oak woodland reserve in the Elan Valley, a mere seventeen miles from Wyeside and Builth Wells. Their performance was immersive thanks to the fourth collaborator, Ruby Fox, whose extraordinary, kaleidoscopic film projections complete the sensory and sensual experience. Fox's "living" artwork is also complemented by Katy Morison's superbly integrated lighting design.

At the venue, a representative from Sinfonia Cymru told me that initially, Kizzy Crawford wrote the songs and then Gwilym Simcock, in collaboration with Crawford, crafted them into something more orchestral. It's clear that Simcock, as well as being a great pianist, has a real talent for composing and orchestration and since he works across genres, has created an integrated journey out of the entire evening, moving between classical, jazz and lyrical Welsh rock, with ample opportunites for all the musicians to shine, including himself and Crawford. The visual element is so strong as well, designed to move and breathe with the music performance so that we enter into a total immersive experience - with songs merging into one another and projections merging into songs.

All the artists onstage entered into the spirit with gusto and clearly enjoyed the totality of the performance, which was sometimes mesmeric. Crawford sings in Welsh and English, her style is warm but plaintiff. In her lyrics, she sings a journey through the seasons of the forest, the battle of winter; the beauty of spring and summer; about how modern man has lost touch with this natural world, but can access it in an instant with a change of heart and awareness; and about the wonder of bird migration, but maybe ours too, in "Back to The trees" she sings, "Africa calls me, adventures waiting, taking me away..."; about the much maligned interloper that offers shelter and nectar to birds and butterflies in "Rhododendron"; and about the nocturnal life of the Little Owl in "Owl Song" that leads to an admonishment, "look deep into nature and you'll understand better."

Musically and visually we sense that everyone involved in this project has visited Carngafallt and spent time soaking up the sounds and sights of the place. The projections move with hypnotic symmetry - unnatural, since nature is assymetric - but the mirrored effects make African masks; green man faces; birds and other woodland or jungle animals, the imagination runs riot as we listen...

Since the Sinfonia Cymru ensemble is small and each player has his or her moment, it's worth mentioning some names:
violins, Simmy Singh and Lucy McKay; viola, Fran Gilbert; Flute, Helen Wilson; Horn, Carys Evans; Cello, George Hoult.
A rich vein of youthful talent. May they return to us in Mid Wales! For more about Sinfonia Cymru's work see:
http://sinfoniacymru.co.uk/about-sinfonia

Image by Warren Orchard

Reviewed by: Jenny March

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