What The River Sings

Trinity Buoy Wharf, Sunday March 4th, 4pm

A Water City Festival Project

in collaboration with the Grand Union Orchestra

For the BBC's Music Nation, part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad

What the River Sings expresses the musical character of London’s East End in the 21st Century through the people who live there, and the varied cultural traditions they have been born or brought up in. It also celebrates the long history of this fascinating part of London – gateway to Britain – at the atmospheric location where the River Lea joins the Thames.

The programme is built around music from The Golden Road, The Unforgiving Sea – commissioned from Tony Haynes by the BBC for the combined forces of the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Grand Union Orchestra, broadcast on Radio 3 in March 2011 – together with other works celebrating centuries of sea-borne trade, travel and migration, specially created for this extraordinary collection of performers.

The performers

For this event the Grand Union Orchestra and the Grand Union Youth Orchestra are joined by the Water City Festival Orchestra, led by the internationally-acclaimed violin virtuoso Michael Bochmann and conducted by Rupert Bond, which brings together students, music teachers and amateur musicians of all ages; and a large choir combining Hackney Voices and the Hackney Empire Community Choir with other singers.

Between them, these ensembles represent many different instrumental and singing traditions from European classical and folk to jazz and various forms of world music. All those involved (professional and amateur) live or work locally, and their instruments range from orchestral brass, wind and strings, Latin percussion and jazz rhythm section to sitar, sarangi, tabla, dhol, baglama (saz), congas and steel pans – complemented by a variety of vocal styles from gospel and West African chant to Portuguese, Turkish and Bengali songs.

The music

The range of music is no less extraordinary. The programme begins with an evocation of Yemanya, the Yoruba spirit of fishermen, water and sea travel - songs from West Africa, Brazil and Cuba which culminate in an exuberant number for the Grand Union Orchestra over pulsating Afro-Cuban drums. This erupts into the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Schéherazade, the most evocative description of ships cresting the ocean waves in the European symphonic repertoire – and a great example of nineteenth century orientalism.

Then to the present day – first a Bangladeshi couple recently settled in Brick Lane sing a duet yearning nostalgically for the rivers of their native Dhaka, accompanied by sitar and sarangi; next, a Turkish singer laments the fate of ship-wrecked sailors while a Portuguese fadista prays for the safe return of her mariner lover, followed in turn by a turbulent number featuring the Grand Union Orchestra jazz soloists. An atmospheric a capella piece based on Inuit poems conjures up the vast and ancient seascapes of the natural world, interrupted mischievously by a couple of the Henry Wood sea songs which are a staple of the Last Night of the Proms, before all the forces combine in a majestic and uplifting finale.

Grand Union main image Quote from The Scotsman

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Supported by the European Cultural Foundation
For regular updates of Gathering, Travelling – Grand Union’s ECF-funded project in collaboration with partners in Portugal and France – please click here.
Supported by the Arts Council England
Youth Music