Rainbow Island


Looking up one or two references for my post on The Hogboon, I did what I never normally do and clicked a few links to reviews of its premiere LSO concert, which were online by then. Peter Maxwell Davies had spent the last year of his life creating an utterly skilled community opera, and a brilliant cast under Simon Rattle’s direction had brought it to life vividly. But out came the critical epithets which are always brandished whenever anything in the 'community' category dares to appear in a professional venue: “Worthy” (Financial Times); “Flawed” (Guardian); “Education project” (really, Evening Standard, even you can do better than that).

I was surprised all over again that there are people so impervious to a branch of new music which in my experience is generally risky and unexpected, excitingly so. In that mood I boarded a train on a faraway platform of Paddington Station, made my way through a mile or two of leafy avenues which could be described as ‘Extreme Ealing’, and entered the monumental St Barnabas Church to hear a performance of Rainbow Island by Liz Sharma.

As well as doing a lot of composing, Liz is also a double reed and sax player, and a longstanding instrumental teacher in schools in the area. Her operas (or maybe they’re cantatas, or musicals) are recycled over the years, and this I think must be one key to their success from which others of us can learn; she’s willing to rewrite for the inevitable new set of performers. This evening’s assembly involved a massive group of singing, dancing people from Havelock, Featherstone and Dormers Wells schools, plus a fine recorder band from Berrymede, under the aegis of Ealing Music Service conducted with great verve by Lee Marchant. (A different set of schools had performed the night before). What I hadn’t expected of the evening was a beautiful orchestral score played by a substantial adult ensemble from Ealing’s musical community, many of whom have appeared in Liz’s performances for over a decade. A lively evening, involving a lot of interesting music, which I’m sure the cast (aged 11 and under) will remember – as will I.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020