wElbow_Hallé© William Ellis-3428-EditFirst Night: Elbow and the Halle Orchestra, Manchester Festival
(Rated 5/ 5 )
Local legends combine to create hypnotic masterpiece
By Jonathan Brown
Thursday, 9 July 2009
During the course of their illustrious 150 year history the Halle Orchestra have enjoyed their fair share of pinnacle moments. Premiering work by Edward Elgar and Gustav Mahler must rank up there in the working life of Britain’s longest-serving professional symphony orchestra.
But even these landmark occasions can scarcely have generated quite as much love, goodwill and sheer pleasure as last night’s collaboration with fellow Mancunian favourites Elbow. The pairing of these two local legends old and new was another inspired choice which draws to a close the first week of the second Manchester International Festival.
It was clear from the start that even with the massive level of expectation for the first of only two sell-out shows at the glorious Bridgewater Hall that this was going to be something special. True, Elbow have form in the orchestral collaboration department having won plaudits when they performed with the BBC Orchestra to recreate their Mercury-winning album The Seldom Seen Kid earlier this year. But front man Guy Garvey, a performer without a scintilla of pretension about him, had promised that they were saving something special for the home gig.
That something special was provided in the form of contemporary composer Joe Dudell, another leading Manchester musical figure, who had spent months brilliantly orchestrating work from across the Elbow back catalogue.
Arriving on stage to an adulatory welcome, Garvey, whose singing was a revelation throughout, was joined by soaring violins, punching brass, grand timpani and the celestial voices of the Halle Youth Orchestra before launching into a luxurious version of “Mirrorball”, fragments of spinning light cannoning off the delighted faces of the crowd. For the increasingly ubiquitous “Grounds for Divorce”, Garvey called on the audience not just to sing but clap and stomp along.
“The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” again benefited from the gargantuan changes of scale and mood that only a full orchestra can bring about. In “Some Riot”, Garvey roared “brother if I don’t run with these fuckers” but it didn’t sound odd at all. The first half finished with a specially extended version of “Weather to Fly”.
By now Garvey was beaming with genuine pride and delight at what had been created here – and was rewarded with a standing ovation for his efforts. After the interval a newly written overture to “Starlings” offered a lush and tender counterpoint to the Gershwin-like stabs of brass. At times the sensation from the rest of the set was akin to floating through warm honey. But while this was new territory for Elbow – ball gowns rather than vest tops in the audience – they were enjoying every moment of it.
The last track, “Powder Blue”, was a hypnotic masterpiece of climbing horns and sad strings. The sheer number of people on stage meant there could be none of the encore ritual so the inevitable finale “One Day Like This” followed straight on with none of the usual shenanigans. The audience discarded classical conventions to stand; lovers’ arms snaked round hips and the swaying began. So mesmerising was what had preceded that it looked at one point as if the showstopper was in danger of being upstaged. But by the end the Bridgewater Hall was a sea of waving arms set against peals of chiming bells. Tonight a special surprise is promised for the final show. This however, as Garvey had pointed out from the off, was a lovely, lovely thing.

wElbow_Hallé© William Ellis-3428-Edit

I photographed the concert as part of the project which I was commissioned to do by the Bridgewater Hall and was an event programmed by Manchester International Festival. (more…)