Jon Lord

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

5 October 2009

I struggled to write anything about this gig. I was speechless by the end of it. It was just that good.

A bit of background, for those who don't know: this concert was a collaboration between Jon Lord, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, and Stevenson College. The orchestra, and the rock band, was made up of music students from those schools. It's the youngest orchestra I've ever seen. Some of them looked about ten!

The first piece on the programme was an overture for the orchestra, The Mauchline Belles by Kevin McCrae.

After that, a group of about twelve traditional musicians, young people led by Phil Cunningham (mostly fiddles, with two guitars, two accordians, and two bagpipes) joined the orchestra to play a set of reels and jigs. A Scottish jig backed by the full power of orchestral brass and percussion is quite amazing!

This first half of the concert lasted about half an hour. The second part consisted of the Concerto For Group and Orchestra. But not in any form I have ever heard before. The "group" was a rock band from Stevenson College which consisted of vocalist, saxophone, bass, drums, keyboards, and two guitar players. Jon Lord joined them on Hammond organ.

Obviously this made for a pretty unique arrangement of the solo parts, but everything worked perfectly. You would never know that this wasn't the "proper" arrangement.

And the band was astonishing. Again, all really young lads, but all of them played superbly. The guitar players alternated solos and both of them seemed good, but I did notice that one of them had paid more attention to the 1999 (Steve Morse) version of the concerto when working out his solos! The first movement guitar solo was extremely long, as was the third movement drum solo, and all the solos got spontaneous applause. The singer... the singer was amazing, but more about him later. For now, I'll just say he has a good voice with the right pitch to sing Gillan's part and he carried off the second movement vocal with no trouble at all.

The orchestra (conducted by Paul Mann, who must be the world's leading expert on this music, nice to see him up there again) worked incredibly hard. This is apparently their first week at the college, and they've been given a hour long modern concerto full of improvised solos to play. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! And if I was being totally honest and critical, there were moments when you could hear that it wasn't a professional, experienced orchestra. But they were very minor moments and in no way detracted from the enjoyment of the performance. They played with energy and enthusuiasm and the overall effect was outstanding.

And I've got to mention the rock group again because they were amazing! I would seriously be interested to hear what kind of music they normally play, because they are all hugely talented.

And the singer... ok... there was an encore.

I knew what the encore would be before Jon finished introducing it, and I wondered if the singer could do it. Good voice in the concerto, but would he have the power to do......Child in Time?

Yes. He was unbeliveable. He just kept going up and up, and never lost a bit of power, never even seemed to be struggling. I don't think I've heard a voice as impressive as that since......well, about 1969!

When the concert ended I felt shell-shocked. I was absolutely speechless. Actually. I was in tears. I had no doubt the concert would be enjoyable... at the very least, it would be "interesting"... but I really didn't expect to come away so impressed. Best concert I've ever seen!

I am so happy that I was able to witness what will probably remain a unique musical event. These young people should feel extremely proud of themselves (and so should Jon and Paul).

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