Archive for the ‘John Dowland’ Category

Sting sings Dowland in Sydney: encore

December 3, 2008
Thanks to Jerry Crew:

“Enjoyed reading the review from Andrew Robertson. For those who would like to hear/see/learn more about this phase of Sting’s career, you can pick up the excellent CD/DVD combo pack titled “The Journey & The Labyrinth: The Music of John Dowland”.

“It contains excerpts from a performance by Sting and Edin Karamazov at St. Luke’s in London, which sounds to be similar to the Sydney performance.”

Sting sings Dowland in Sydney

December 1, 2008
Thanks to Andrew Robertson (in Adelaide)

Why, if a person who plays the flute is a flautist, is a person who plays the lute a lutenist?

On Sunday night, we saw Sting playing his “lute concert” at the Sydney Opera House, the day after the architect who had designed the Sydney Opera House, Joern Utzon, had died. Before the concert started the boss of the Opera House came out and spoke warmly about Utzon, although the history of Utzon and his Opera House was controversial. He hadn’t been appreciated and acknowledged appropriately at the time, and the project went way over budget. As a result, Utzon had never actually seen the finished building and I believe felt some bitterness about it right to the end. Maybe there are people who know more about this than me?

Sting then spoke about his excitement and pride of playing in such an iconic venue, particularly at this poignant time. He said he’d been coming to Australia for 30 years and had never thought he’d be playing at the Opera House.

And in a world where the word “iconic” has lost some of its currency through over-use, there is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is an icon. Catching a ferry across the harbour framed by the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House is one of the world’s great travel experiences – no matter how often you do it, it can still take your breath away.

So to the concert, and what a thoroughly charming evening it was.

I was asked what were the other differences between the flute and the lute, apart from the names of those who play them, and I said the way they are played – one is played with the lips and the other with the fingers. I was informed, with a glint in her eye, that this is a big and important difference indeed! I wonder what she meant…

The concert opened with a trio comprising grand piano, cello and classical guitar playing original music (written by the pianist) which was warm and inviting, somehow contemporary in style but also with a sense of timelessness, as great classical music is. Was this great music? I am not sure, as I am probably not qualified to judge, but it was a great experience sitting there listening to it.

Then after a short interval where champagne was obligatory as we stepped outside the Opera House to look across the water at the Bridge in lights, out came Sting, accompanied initially only by Edin Karamazov, a man who I am sure is the finest lutenist in history. As the concert continued, in some songs they were accompanied by an 8 piece choir, 4 male and 4 female voices, with all of the right mixes of baritone, tenor and the rest – beautiful, although possibly slightly under-utilised as they seemed to be really only providing the harmonies when I’m sure they were capable of more. But when you have a voice like Sting’s, what more do you need?

Having heard Sting in his own jazz-inflected band back in the early ‘90s (around the time he was pursuing South America influences to create some really wonderful music) and also more recently in the Police reunion tour, I didn’t realize how good his voice really is. In the pop/rock/jazz idioms the vocal is often competing for space against all of the other instruments, and also against the sheer volume of the sounds, but against a musical backdrop of the lute, the whole lute and nothing but the lute, the voice was on full display. I am not musically literate enough to know how describe it, but I am sure it is a classical voice of rare quality.

He commented that after playing to audiences of 20-30,000 people that it was a bit intimidating to play to a small audience where he could actually see everyone’s face. The Opera House has a number of auditoriums, and this concert hall was quite small – at a guess, not more than 2,000 people, possibly less. We were close, and it was wonderfully intimate. If he was intimidated, it didn’t show – he was in command, it was very definitely his show, but in a way that expressed confidence rather than arrogance. It was also very honest – here he was doing something heartfelt, following his own musical journey and arguably risking much in terms of his reputation and audience.

The music was the songs of John Dowland from 16th century England – but songs which resonated today. Musically Sting had been quoted as saying that these songs had a direct lineage through to the Beatles, and in the encore when he played In My Life it was as if to demonstrate that. The encore also included Fields of Gold and Message In A Bottle, both of which worked beautifully in this context.

Prior to the concert I had wondered what other accompaniment he would have, other than the lutenist Karamazov. I was surprised that there was none other – but it didn’t need any more, the lute was such a rich accompaniment on its own. Particularly played the way Edin Karamazov played it. Sting also played the lute, in about half the songs, possibly more – he was good, but kind of like the rhythm lutenist to Karamazov’s lead.

Sting was very generous in his appreciation of Karamazov, and also the backing choir. Again, he came across as very human and very likeable.

In a world in which I think experiences are more valuable than things, this was a priceless experience.