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Concert Review: Edinburgh Castle
Hayley in Edinburgh

July 20th 2006

Hayley Westenra

Tonight’s concert performance was exclusive, with Hayley’s first appearance at Edinburgh Castle. This was both an historic and thrilling event, for Hayley and for Edinburgh. Seated in “Block D” half way up the south stand, I had a fantastic view of the stage which seemed vast with the very grand ‘Il Divo’ stage scenery of a granite/ marble effect staircase and columns in place. I thought that perhaps Hayley might be tempted to include a rendition of Michael Balfe’s ‘I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls’ from ‘The Bohemian Girl’ on her set list, but this was not to be! Whilst we were waiting for Hayley to appear, my heart was thumping as I was trying to take it all in- what a fantastic setting this was for a concert. The thought of Hayley singing within the grounds of a such a huge castle as this with so much history, situated high up on a volcanic hill. One could almost smell the acrid smoke from 16th century cannons. Perhaps it might have been in order for a cannon salute to have been instigated to welcome Hayley on stage? Oh well… I guess we’ll just have to see what can be done when Hayley returns for a headlining show!

It was just after eight o’clock when there was an announcement via the P.A. system… “Ladies and Gentlemen, from New Zealand please will you welcome Hayley Westenra”… Applause and whistles echoed around the buzzing auditorium. I heard somebody close by exclaim “My word!” on Hayley’s arrival. She was stunning, dressed in a delphinium blue dress featuring a sparkling Saltire-like jewelled cross. Hayley took her centre stage position, followed closely by Fiona Pears. There was a beaming smile from Hayley. “Thank you. How is everyone? The audience respond positively. “Are you good? “Well I have to say I’m so excited to be here this evening”. Hayley’s facial expression and hand gestures conveyed her excitement as she remarked, “This has got to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever performed in and…”, some members of the audience responded again with “Yeah!” before Hayley could get another word in. “Isn’t it gorgeous?” Hayley retorted and then giggled. Loud applause followed and a “Woo!” from someone down in the stalls. As a natural performer, it only took Hayley a few seconds to establish a good rapport with her audience. She explained, “I have actually been to Edinburgh before, but I’ve only ever really looked up at the Castle to take photos from the street below, so it’s really exciting to be in the grounds of the Castle. Anyway this first song is from my Home country of NZ. Hope you like it.” Al Gurr played up to the 1st two notes of the song on his piano as Hayley looked pensive and paused to compose herself for ‘Pokarekare Ana’. With the familiar “Hayley stance” of microphone in her left hand, right arm slightly bent and poised slightly in front of her with her thumb and forefinger meeting, she sang straight from her heart. Occasionally she sang with her right hand outstretched to convey emphasis in the song. The audience were lulled into silence by Hayley’s opening bars of the song alone. To me the visual impact of Hayley standing at the foot of the gigantic staircase was quite dramatic- almost reminiscent of a scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Before the end of the first verse, a very enthused member of the audience (other than me!) called out “Woo!” at the top of their lungs. I cringed as a few gormless latecomers traipsed in.

Hayley’s hair was as subtle waves of silk, falling over her shoulders and half way down her back. The spotlight highlighted an eye-catching sheen, as her hair danced in the gentle breeze. I was delighted to notice that Hayley’s shadow was cast by the spotlight onto the centre of the ‘Il Divo’ staircase. Quite beautiful! The majority of the audience seemed to be enthralled by Hayley. At the close of this first song, a warm smile slowly emanated from Hayley’s face, before she took a sip of water. “Thank you. For those of you who don’t know that was ‘Pokarekare Ana’ which is a Maori song”. She explained that Maori is New Zealand’s native language and that the song was a love song about someone going off to sea and leaving their loved one behind. “It’s a song close to my heart. I’ve sung it quite a few times. It kind of makes me a little homesick as well” she said. Hayley proceeded to introduce her next song as “also a traditional song”, ‘The Water Is Wide’. It is at times like these one is truly glad that ‘Odyssey’ was re-released with the additional new tracks! The song flowed and together with the enthusiastic contribution of her cohort musicians, Hayley’s stage presence exuded confidence.

Hayley thanked the audience before explaining, “Well My Nana gave me the sheet music to this next song which I’d like to sing for you. She gave it to me a few years ago and I kind of put it on top of the piano with all the other music and I didn’t really look at it until I was looking for songs for my album ‘Odyssey’, my latest album. I was listening to a lot of CDs and going through sheet music and came across this song. It’s Caccini’s ‘Ave Maria’…” Much to Hayley’s amusement there was another huge “Wooooah!” from someone in the stalls. Hayley giggled and responded with, “Hope you like it”. On returning the microphone to the stand, Hayley remained meditative throughout this song, with her head poised slightly upwards and her right hand clasped by her left. I was captivated and I could have sworn I heard the Castle walls tremble during this very enchanting prayer piece.

As Hayley nodded to Al Gurr to acknowledge that she was ready to proceed with the next piece, Al played the introduction to ‘Scarborough Fair’. It can be quite a dreamlike experience witnessing Hayley performing on stage. I imagined Hayley as the miller’s beautiful daughter in the folk tale of ‘Rumplestiltskin’ who spun yarns of straw into gold. Tonight the Westenra/ Pears/ Gurr spinning wheel really turned and delighted an Edinburgh audience with reels full of glittering gold. I was entranced by a smooth, sweet sound which had incredible dimension. The musical accompaniment of Fiona and Al blended beautifully with Hayley’s vocals.

With 15 minutes of the set already gone, Hayley acknowledged to Al that she was ready to proceed with the next song. She described the piece as “one recorded for a movie called ‘The Merchant of Venice’, which featured Al Pacino- it was his film. You’d better watch it – it’s fantastic! The lyrics for the song were written by a poet named Edgar Allan Poe and were put to music by Jocelyn Pook. This is ‘Bridal Ballad’ ” Once again Al played up to the 1st two opening notes of the song before there was a few seconds pause. Hayley clasped her right hand with her left and Bridal Ballad soared high… During this piece I was struck by Fiona’s very effective use of pizzicato, perfectly synchronised with Al’s piano at the end of each verse. Unfortunately one of the members of the stage crew decided to walk out from the musicians’ left hand side of the stage and later return back during the closing bars of the song. I thought was very impolite to the musicians, even although they did not appear to have noticed him. Why could he not have waited until the end of the song?

Hayley explained, “Now I’m going to bring another New Zealand theme into the set. This next song was taken from the soundtrack put together for ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie. The movies were filmed in New Zealand in case you didn’t know. If you’ve seen the films you will have seen New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes and the snow capped mountains. This is what kind of comes to my mind when I sing this song. It’s ‘May It Be’…” Hayley recited a mesmerising rendition of ‘May It Be’ which would have stopped an entire regiment of cavalry soldiers of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in their tracks. I’m sure most people related to the sentiments of hope and promise in this piece. Hayley apologised for repeadedly sipping her water… and giggled. “It’s not even that hot here is it? I left London this morning and it was scorching… I didn’t really bring any kind of clothes for this weather, but I’ll be alright.” The audience laughed in response. “But anyway… back to the music. This next song is from ‘Carmina Burana’. It’s ‘In Trutina’ " I was over the moon to hear this second song selected from ‘Pure’ on Hayley’s set list tonight. Hayley adopted a similar stance to sing this song as she did for ‘Ave Maria’, with her head poised slightly upwards and her hands clasped.

I sensed that Hayley’s set was shortly due to conclude just before she announced, “OK this is my last song of the evening. Thank you very much you’ve been a fantastic audience!” There was loud applause and whistles from the audience. “Before I sing this last song, I’d like to introduce the two fantastic musicians up on stage with me.” she said. “This is Fiona Pears on violin, from my home town of Christchurch and on piano this is….. Al Gurr”. There was a moment of hesitation before Hayley revealed her pianist’s name to us, as her mind must have gone blank for a second in all the excitement of performing at Edinburgh Castle! Don’t worry Hayley, we’ve all had moments such as those! Hayley giggled and then she and Al reassured one another with a huge hug on stage… This was a very endearing moment. “I’m in trouble now for forgetting his name!” Hayley joked.

The finalé of the evening was ‘Hine e Hine’. Some people will remember that this beautiful lullaby was the same piece which Hayley closed her concert with on the Winter ‘Pure’ Tour. Once again Hayley thanked her audience and curtsied after a magnificent performance, whilst her musicians took their bows. With a warm smile, Hayley held her right hand high and waved as she, Fiona and Al left the stage to loud applause and whistling from the auditorium. Hayley truly sent her Edinburgh audience on an odyssey tonight.

click for video coverage

Andrew Fenning

Re: Il Divo - UK - Edinburgh - 20th July 2006

source : hwi
credits : review by andrew fenning
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