Review: Karl Jenkins - The Armed Man at Symphony Hall | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Karl Jenkins – The Armed Man at Symphony Hall

Food Editor Caitlin Dickinson reviews a powerful performance of The Armed Man at Symphony Hall, drawing on themes of dissent, war, and humanity.

When going to watch a live performance, I would rarely choose to see a live choir and orchestra at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Something along the lines of pure drama like Shakespeare at the RSC is more my scene. This does not mean to say that I dislike classical music, but just that I have a fear of an inevitable boredom at the thought of listening to Latin opera that I might not understand, or of violins that might make noises that go right through me.

I cannot claim that any of the above applied to watching and listening to Karl Jenkins, The Armed Man. This performance, with Manchester Chorale, was thematically based upon a growing descent of society into war, but from a peace perspective and written for the victims of the Kosovo crisis in 1999. The feelings of horror, of wanting for peace, and calls to play all featured in this gripping composition of music. In a mixture of Latin and English, Jenkins was able to capture the eclectic mix of emotions one may feel in a war-torn country, or the cries of joy when returning home. 

The feelings of horror, of wanting for peace, and calls to play all featured in this gripping composition of music

It begins with a representation of marching feet, overlaid later by the shrill tones of a piccolo impersonating the flutes of a military band with the 15th-century French words of "The Armed Man". This effortlessly flows into contrasting styles of music that evoke emotions I would not expect from an orchestra. Eerie battlefield sounds from drums, screams from violins, lone trumpets and footsteps from percussion all unify to create this spectacle of music to represent war over the years.

The most popular of his songs such as “Benedictus” and “Sanctus” and songs from his album “Adiemus” which have been used in Lion King and Avatar, were all played at his concert. I admittedly was not familiar with the majority of his music, but I undoubtedly understood what he intended to get across to an audience; sorrow or joy. A fantastic feature of this performance was the world-class violinist Joo Yeon Sir. The skill and talent shown when she was featured in the first half of the production was undoubtedly praiseworthy, it was no doubt she was a special guest in the performance. 

I personally found it exceptionally moving and relevant to the twenty-first century

What I found most moving in the performance was the featuring of an Islamic Imman to replace an opera singer. It is expected that joined onto an orchestra there should be an opera element, but this was usurped by the inclusion of an Imman’s call to prayer with the overlapping of classical music. Though it has recently been deemed controversial due to the Catholic content of the music and lyrics, I personally found it exceptionally moving and relevant to the twenty-first century.

English Literature BA undergraduate and Redbrick food editor. (@caitlinabby)



Published

14th November 2017 at 9:00 am



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