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On London Fields

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On London Fields - Hackney Music Development Trust Winner of 2005 RPS Education Award

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Evening Standard Review

Monday 22 November 2004

Hats off to the young and old of Hackney

by Stephen Pettitt

To compose a community opera for an area as culturally diverse as Hackney must be well-nigh impossible. But Matthew King has made a pretty good fist of the task in On London Fields, the end product of Hackney Music Development Trust's community education project Operaction Hackney: Learning Through the Arts, which was premiered under the baton of Jonathan Gill last Friday.

Alasdair Middleton's often witty, occasionally near-bawdy libretto concerns 17th-century Hackney residents’ battles with Cromwellian authority, with the real-life figure of local visionary Hannah Trapnel at its heart.

King's music is eminently approachable, veering between jazz and a sort of energetic minimalism. Even so, he’s unafraid of complexity, even when writing for very young performers. Some of the clashing rhythms and textural layerings are mind-boggling. And he manages to bring in gospel music, music-hall songs a la Chas and Dave, African and Turkish/Kurdish music, even a brass band (an arresting opening fanfare recalls Monteverdi's Orfeo, no less). Maybe the main characters lack the depth, maybe there are to many chorus-centred tableaux in act one, and may be the end of the work could be tightened up. But it’s still a considerable achievement.

There was good first-night singing from the professionals - Sally Burgess as Hannah, Alison Buchanan and Simon Thorpe as wife and husband Deborah and Abel, and Jonathan Gunthorpe as the delightfully named henchman of parliament, Sir Bawnagayne Surly - while the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields did their expected fine job in the pit.

What mattered most, however, was the unselfconscious eagerness shown by every amateur singer or player, tiny child or senior citizen. Hats off, then to Cambridge Heath Brass, Centre for Young Musicians Hackney, Emashi, I Can Sing Youth Choir, the Robinson Singers, RazzamaSaz, the Sharp Hoxtoners, the Wing-It Singers, and the Young Jazz Hackney for getting up there and doing it so boldly.







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