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Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland : Bringing Down the House at the Philharmonic Hall


The curtain fell on the last concert at the Philharmonic Hall before its £13.5million refurbishment

Stewart Copeland and RLPO

If you’re going to bow out, bow out with a bang.

And a crash, a wallop, a fanfare, and something resembling a choral sonic boom.

No wonder conductor Vasily Petrenko has got himself a hard hat (with ‘Maestro’ emblazoned on it apparently).

Anyway, one assumes that was the intention of programmers when they came to plan this final concert before the Phil closes its doors for five months and half the place – panic not, it’s the modern bit at the back – is torn down.

Thus a concert that started with kettle drum, and ended with so many bodies involved that more than a dozen brass players were placed in boxes flanking the stage.

And in the middle, flanked by an all-British composing cast (Britten, Elgar and Walton, all of whom knew a thing or two about the big occasion), we got the world premiere of a new percussion concerto – by American-born rock drummer-turned-composer Stewart Copeland.

Whimsically-titled Poltroons in Paradise, there’s surprisingly little use of drums in what is a playfully melodic piece – albeit with a strong, persistent rhythmic beat at its heart.

Copeland cut his classical teeth in cinema, and the concerto is cinematic in colour and texture, reminiscent of those ‘hep cat’ movies of the 50s and early 60s.

Scored for three percussion (Graham Johns, Henry Baldwin and Adrian Spillett), timpani (the aptly-named Neil Hitt) and orchestra, it has oriental-infused marimba, carnival-style siren whistles and a cadenza featuring a trio of triangles.

How could anyone not enjoy such exuberance?

Copeland, who bounded joyfully on stage to take a bow, punch the air and shout ‘yes!’, now plans to turn Poltroons into a full-blown symphony...and play in it himself.

If Poltroons is a street party, Belshazzar’s Feast is an epic sit-down banquet.

The Philharmonic Youth Choir and Blue Coat School Boy’s Choir provided freshness in the opening Britten (Welcome Ode), and the RLPC thundering power in the closing Walton, a performance of commanding proportions and with impressive attack, clarity and tone in a piece that’s a tough sing, and a worthy finale

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