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Hayley at Huddersfield Town Hall

Saturday 10th June 2006

With Skelmanthorpe Band
Huddersfield Organ
click to enlarge

sponsored by Innovate

Hayley Westenra International report by Peter Such

Introduction, The Hall To avoid repetition I'll link readers to my 'Hayley Westenra in a Christmas Concert with Pennine Brass and at the invitation of Huddersfield Methodist Choir' post which is on the HWI Forum. That post gives a background to Huddersfield and its glorious Concert Hall. Pictures were then not forthcoming but I did take a few of this glorious concert hall this time round.

Hayley herself commented on what a marvellous hall this is and how much she enjoyed a return visit. An idea of the pressure she is under is that there were several songs where she had electronic backing due to lack of rehearsal time and the need to arrange the music, that last probably being the key element. Arranging orchestral work for a brass band is no mean feat and I suspect Hayley wanted full participation. There is also the time factor of gaining clearance from the original composer, presumably. I assume the tracks were the ones from the recording studio taken at the time before mixing-in her voice for the final master. These questions and the definitive colour of her first dress are questions I would have liked to have asked had the opportunity been there. [In fact, editing my original forum posts for this main review I have since learned from the lady herself that the colour of this dress was aqua.]

 With regard to the audience, it is difficult to assess who was there for the band and who was there for Hayley. The hall was packed. What was clear was that last time the audience were there for the Methodist Choir, their regular performers and Hayley by repute. This time, they welcomed Hayley for herself and the local reputation she had acquired previously.

 When she came on stage the applause was a warm one for her as the person, not simple appreciation of a celebrated artist of distant reputation. A warmth of applause that increased as the evening progressed-and she gave us eight songs!

The £2 programme was a straight forward 8pp full colour job on good quality art paper. The key four lines of the heading went in the following degree of emphasis: 2,3,4,1. INNOVATE Skelmanthorpe Band In Concert with Special Guest Hayley Westenra.Then details of date and venueA partial showing of a euphonium next to a prominent head and neck shot of Hayley in the current promotional pose of three-quarter face on, her eyes looking extreme left and wearing (though barely in the picture) that red dress. All this was white lettered out of a three-quarter weight red to orange colour. At the bottom, interestingly was the official web address, standing out quite prominently under which was 'by arrangement with Solo'.

 The theme is carried through at the top of each double-page spread with different heads of Hayley, going back over the last four or five years. They are pictures with which we are all familiar but interestingly the youngest of them I think is taken from the Russell Watson open-air concert in NZ.

 The inside opening spread is all about Hayley: her discovery and rapid progress. The centre spread is the programme. The last spread devotes one page to the band and the other to an advertisement to which half the back page is devoted, the other half devoted to Acknowledgements of sponsors. Regrettably, there is not any break-down of the band which I would have found very useful. I am not familiar with the composition of brass bands. In my December report I said I was not particularly enamoured of them. I have changed my mind since hearing these two excellent bands. Both, I suspect regularly enter competitions and the music is carefully chosen to reflect their instrumental balance. Too often, I suspect, one mostly hears brass bands 'playing music', rather than music specifically arranged for them. A point I shall mention later.

The compère was an established local raconteur of (to me) original jokes, several of which (most unusually) remain with me. At least the ones I understood. The broad well, let's say 'local' accent as I'm not too sure which side of the Pennines I'm in (or he was from!), meant that I was often still deciphering the joke while the rest of the audience were already laughing at it. In one or two instances I simply never got it at all. Unfortunately, the ones I remember are of the more risqué type and being sensitive to the diverse range of our readers (some quite young) I cannot share them here. I could, however, imagine Hayley in her dressing room hearing them over the Tannoy and emitting that lovely infectious giggle of hers-for the jokes' value as jokes, not necessarily because they were risqué!

The band opened with Strauss' (arranged by Banks) Fest Musik Der Stadt Wien. This was followed by a rarely heard Suppé overture Tantalusqualen. It reminded me I have an LP of several Suppé overtures which I have not played for some time. This overture is one of them. For me, it showed what a brass band can do when orchestral music is properly arranged for the changed composition of players.

Then Hayley, beautifully introduced by the compère and greeted by a warm, spontaneous and affectionate applause. In both parts she was described in the programme as giving us 'A selection of songs  from her albums 'Odyssey' and 'Pure''. The dress she wore was essentially a satin under-slip in aqua with simple shoulder straps over which was a midnight blue chiffon over dress, hence my difficulty originally in defining the colour.

She opened with Pokarekare Ana. Initially there was no difference to what we know. The clear, bell-like tones of her soaring voice open that expectation of her pure musical beauty. Then the orchestra comes in gently behind her. but there wasn't an orchestra. Lacking strings and woodwind what came in, almost sotto voce but with wonderful depth of tone was the euphonium section. That was the moment, later confirmed by Hayley almost apologetically for using recorded backing later on (due to lack of time for rehearsal and arrangement) that one realises just how hardworking this girl really is.

It is not just a question of jetting here and there-look at this past week: Sunday in Germany; Tuesday Sloane Square; Thursday Wisley, a pre-show radio interview, rehearsal and performance; Saturday Germany then Harrogate; Sunday Germany. It is the behind-the-scenes work of continually selecting and balancing not just varying programmes but programmes with varying musical support: piano and violin, string only and orchestras of different sizes. This past week: Tuesday with a sextet or octet, we couldn't recall; Thursday a full-scale orchestra, Saturday a brass band. Not just song changes but different instruments and numbers of instrumental players.

A New-style Interview with Hayley? What I would love to hear, or read, would be an interview with Hayley conducted by someone with the appropriate technical knowledge, to discuss with her just what goes on behind-the-scenes. We know she looks at tunes with particularly appealing lilt or words that are meaningful. In short, that which musically or lyrically has depth, nothing trite. Clearly, there is another dimension, the complexity of arranging for different instrumental combinations. How does she go about this? How does she indicate the interpretation she wants with the specialists, as with an orchestral or band conductor? What are the complications with the relevant composers or their estates for copyright clearances? It seems composers may need, or should appreciate, arrangers in the same way that writers need editors. Where and how does Hayley interact in this diversity of juxtapositions? When one thinks of all this background one really begins to understand just how much work this girl puts in behind-the-scenes in every public appearance she makes.

The result was what we are accustomed to: a fantastically enthusiastic response from the hall. She explained the background to Pokarekare Ana as the conductor stepped aside and disappeared. I had thought she was about to sing a cappella but she then apologised for the use of backing tracks and introduced 'The Water is Wide'. She then explained her interest in, and admiration for, Joni Mitchell's work, saying that every time she sang her songs, the following one in particular, she seemed to find different meanings in each line. The song was 'Both Sides Now'.

During her time on stage there were two different lighting approaches to which she responded in the classic Hayley manner, adapting to the different opportunities each gave her. During this and the following song 'Lascia Ch'io Panga' she was on a darkened stage with a follow spot. This sense of isolation gave her stage presence a sense of exquisite vulnerability, adding more feeling by inference to her singing. Later, with house lights partially up she used the technique I noted in my Christmas report, 'playing to the gallery', except this time she was 'playing to the whole audience as individuals'.

I am sure she made that whole audience believe she was singing straight to each of them, whether or not she could actually see them. I am sure I caught a flicker of recognition as her eye caught mine. Perhaps it was only a flicker of the lights reflecting in her eyes. She has said 'The stage is my space. I feel at home there'. Without doubt she was aware of everything around her, every aspect of the whole and the whole was a part of her. For those moments we felt we had been invited into her home and she was totally in command without seeming to be so.

Thunderous applause as Hayley left the stage, which led to the band's final two pieces for Part 1. 'Fugue from Graduation Day' by Philip Sparke and a rendition of 'Somewhere' from Bernstein's 'West Side Story'. An interesting arrangement that was clearly challenging but the orchestral version is so well known I felt this rendition a pale imitation. Nonetheless, one could admire the artistry with which the arranger had tried to evoke the mood of the orchestral version.

Part 2 started with three pieces with which I was totally unfamiliar and about which I can only say gave the opportunity for the various soloists and instrumental sections to 'strut their stuff'. They were 'Start of Something Big' arranged by D Roberts but otherwise without authorship. 'Vitae Lux' by Frode Alnaes arranged by T Aagaard-Nilsen and a very jazzy piece in which the band really let go called 'Sparkling Diamonds' arranged by Sandy Smith.

Then Hayley reappeared. This time she wore a royal blue to light navy silk dress, again with a chiffon or tulle over dress. I gained the impression she had commissioned a basic pattern upon which she rings the changes regarding colour and presentation. The dress is what I would describe as a Jane Austen style, high waisted and flowing straight down, except in this case it ended at her knees in a deliberately 'haphazard' fashion. It is a very fetching design and I wonder if the implied economy is monetary (not that she needs that economy but simply she is an economically-minded girl) or economy of time to make, her schedule being so demanding. Maybe it is simply a fashion statement, with Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen generally being much in vogue.

She started with 'Quanta Qualia', followed by 'Prayer' the background to which she explained fully. Then she sang 'Across the Universe of Time'. She completed this section with a fulsome rendition of 'Amazing Grace'. Then she left the stage to rapturous applause and an unquestioned demand, through calls and determined continuation of clapping, for an encore. She declined and I thought she had made a mistake not to heed that audience response. Of course she hadn't!

'Nightmare and Victory' from 'Cry of the Celts' arranged by Graham announced the band's closing section followed by the Finale from Stravinsky's 'The Firebird'. This was a very interesting piece. It is music with which I am personally very familiar, not only because I like it as music but because it has been used as mood music for one or two Shakespeare productions in which I have been involved. It is an orchestral piece and showed the limitations of transmuting music from one set of instruments to another. I could admire the ingenuity with which the play of instruments and their registers mimicked the missing strings and woodwind but in that mimicking they emphasised their absence. Disappointed in the rendition I could nonetheless, perhaps perversely because of the disappointment, admire the extraordinary skills that an arranger requires in adapting music from one intended presentation to another. This piece also helped to bring home to me the hard work that lies behind Hayley's so often, seemingly 'throw away' remark of 'arranging' something.

Then the compère again, this time giving the usual 'winding down' tributes. A joke or two and then, 'Do you want any more?' There was a slightly puzzled response. After all, we hadn't indicated we wanted an encore. So we said, 'yes', seemingly out of politeness, 'Pardon?' 'YES!' we shouted back in the spirit of the music hall. 'Ladies and Gentlemen, Hayley Westenra'!  Now we knew why Hayley had declined the audience's previous and very obvious desire that she should return earlier. The thunderous, rapturous applause that greeted her return to the stage let her know quite clearly what was the audience's opinion. The applause kept her waiting for some little while until she hushed it in order to move on.

I will describe the closing song as Hayley used to describe it. As a Maori lullaby to which theme NZ TV used to close down as a little kiwi climbed up into the satellite dish and tucked himself in bed. But this was a rendition to which I was unfamiliar. This was a lullaby to waken, not put to sleep but the waking would surely have been to sing joyously with it and not to cry. This was after all the finale to a splendid evening of music. Crescendo rose upon crescendo to finally die with the fading notes of the band only to rise again, this time with the crescendo of an appreciative audience expressing their thanks to a young girl who had given them so much pleasure that evening. A young girl, whose natural generosity of spirit insisted on sharing that applause with all the other players.

They presented her with a bouquet. A young man came on stage, handed her the bouquet and seemingly unsure, or not wishing to presume upon the traditional kiss on each cheek, nodded his head. It was she who leaned right forward and kissed him, I think fully on the lips but my angle may have mistaken and it was to the side of the mouth. Which ever, the audience approved. It is without doubt that the young man, turning towards the audience to leave, wore an enormous grin and left the stage somewhat pinker of cheek than when he came on. I think she had just made his year.  

Peter S

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