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  'Musicians Against Nuclear Arms'  Concert For Peace: Fauré, Debussy, Griffes, Boustany and Haydn MANA Chamber Orchestra, Christina Rhys (harp), Wissam Boustany (flute), Levon Parikian (conductor), St James Church, Piccadilly, London 10.9.2009 (CR)

MANA (Musicians Against Nuclear Arms) is an organization which uses music to promote world peace. Its chamber orchestra, which performed in this evening’s concert, is made up of members of the organization who donate their services for the cause. Their message is strong; that cultural pursuits can help to raise awareness and go some way towards building a more peaceful world.

For some, the idea of a concert with a political message might be a little off-putting, but the event was well-balanced and the members were welcoming, including the helpful box office volunteers to the attentive stewards at the door.

The quality of the music was also surprisingly good for what is ostensibly a ‘scratch’ orchestra which gets together on the day of the concert. The sound was balanced, rich and warm, and the opening work, Fauré’s Masques et Bergamasques was well controlled, with the languid phrases well shaped and impressively accurate intonation throughout.

Debussy’s Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane brought harp soloist Christina Rhys to the fore. This was a lovely performance, with Lev Parikian coaxing some expressive colours from the orchestra and allowing Debussy’s exotic harmonies to be heard in clean lines. The virtuoso harp part was ably performed by Rhys, who gave a sparkling and involving performance.

World Peace is an issue that lies at the heart of flute player Wissam Boustany’s music. Founder of the charity Towards Humanity, he is also one of MANA’s patrons. His performance of Griffes’ Poem for flute and orchestra demonstrated the utmost control of the expressive powers of his instrument, captivating the audience with intense changes of dynamic and timbre, as well as effortlessly handling the technical demands of the music. This was followed by a spectacular performance of Boustany’s own composition, …And the Wind Whispered, for solo flute. This piece takes as its focus the wind, which travels freely across borders and is at the centre of life. The music took the audience on a journey around the world, as if following the breeze, with impressive folk-influenced melodies played with dramatic and enormously convincing timbral changes. This inspiring performance was the highlight of the concert for me, and Wissam’s commitment both to music and to the peace movement is to be admired.

The second half began with a short speech from Kate Hudson, the Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who reported progress from the Campaign and that opinion polls show a majority in favour of complete nuclear disarmament in this country.

This was followed by Haydn’s 104th Symphony, which was given a committed and highly spirited performance, which the performers were clearly enjoying. The sombre opening was well phrased, with a good sense of ensemble and a beautiful oboe solo, while the Allegro that followed was rousing and uplifting in its sprightly tempo. The second movement was poised and elegant, with some wonderfully dramatic playing, especially from the cellos and basses. The Minuet was taken at the perfect tempo and had a light dance feel, while the finale was once again taken at a nimble pace and had a real sense of excitement.

This was an enjoyable evening, and it was heartening to see such good music making and enjoyment with a serious underlying message. The joyfulness of the players was infectious, and as my third concert outing of the week, this was probably the most memorable.

Carla Rees


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