Review: Youth orchestra brings the funk to church

Clive Peacock reviews the National Youth Orchestra at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, as part of Stratford Music Festival

Seldom, if ever, has Holy Trinity Church been subjected to such a volume of funky music as that created by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Now in their twenty-first year, Mark Armstrong their artistic director fashioned a blistering evening of musical takes on Shakespeare’s works with the help of the excellent choristers of the National Youth Chamber Choir. As the climax to Stratford’s annual Music Festival, this particularly exciting evening was at its best when the two ensembles collaborated.

With Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder, Ben Parry’s Weary with Toil, Pete Churchill’s Journey’s End taking a look at Shakespeare’s approach to death and Owain Park’s When Love Speaks, there was much to enthuse about with the clever interpretations of the collaborations and a chance to marvel at outstanding solos from trumpeters, percussion and piano. Vaughan Williams’s Three Shakespeare Songs set the tone for the evening with the strong references to The Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Bringing events up to date was a delightful, unaccompanied rendition of Ward Swingle’s It was a Lover and his Lass, a most attractive post interval start, warming the spirits of many souls as the temperatures dropped in the rapidly cooling Holy Trinity. Warm applause, too, greeted Nils Lindberg’s Shall I Compare Thee and Janet Wheeler’s setting of Shakespeare’s exhortation to an unidentified man to embrace the joys of married life in Music to Hear showing NYCC ensemble’s ability to deliver delicate sounds amidst beautiful harmonies. The gentle exhalations to close the sonnet were memorable.

Mark Armstrong’s final contribution, his lively, funky composition Food of Love made special mention to Shakespeare’s references to music, trumpets and drums – significant links to the event title Jazz Up Your Shakespeare.