By: SCOTT MATTHEWMAN andMARYAM PHILPOTT
With increasing pressure on West End theatre space and a greater reliance on digitised music, it’s rare to hear a full 40-piece orchestra play London’s musicals as they were intended. In their place, a fashion for the concert performance has emerged, celebrating the longevity of a specific show or the work of one composer.
For some time behind the scenes, the London Musical Theatre Orchestra has organised rehearsal sessions for established musicians and new artists, with regular play-through sessions looking at scores old and new. At a gala event held at the Bishopsgate Institute, the LMTO announced it is turning professional, with a programme of public concerts in 2016 and 2017.
“Music to me is all about the art of collaboration,” Founder and Principal Conductor Freddie Tapner explained. “The LMTO will be comprised of top West End performers, as well as 25% of the orchestra dedicated to the “development of high-quality, up-and-coming players”.
Two concerts are planned for 2016, including the UK symphonic premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair at Cadogan Hall on 6 November, and the London premiere of A Christmas Carol by Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens at the Lyric Theatre on 19 December, with tickets on sale in the next fortnight.
The gala evening was an opportunity to showcase the full orchestral sound the concerts will offer, accompanied by some of the West End’s leading vocalists. It began with a chamber quartet, which had been greeting visitors with inoffensive fare such as Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast, delivering a barnstorming promenade version of West Side Story’s America, concluding as they ascend the stage and allowing the full LMTO to deliver the number’s final chord.
The sound of a full symphonic orchestra really comes to the fore in the sumptuous overture to Crazy For You, which touches on some of Gershwin’s most beloved musical theatre numbers. But a musical theatre orchestra could not survive on instrumentals and overtures alone, so the LMTO played host to a number of guest vocalists to provide a peek into their desire to play scores both old and new.
From Ramin Karimloo performing ’Til I Hear You Singfrom Love Never Dies to Ashleigh Gray (pictured, right, who has toured in Wicked as Elphaba) delivering a very impressive rendition of Defying Gravity, the orchestra’s desire to work with professionals at the top of their game is evident. But classic musicals are far from the orchestra’s only focus: a prerecorded video showed a rehearsal session working through songs by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole) while in the hall, Tim Connor’s The 6:59from The Station Master, which won the Stiles &Drewe songwriting prize after the musical was workshopped at the Tristan Bates theatre, received its fully orchestrated premiere.
To bring the musical segment to a close, Rebecca Caine provided an uplifting You’ll Never Walk Alone’, while Hadley Fraser brought proceedings to an upbeat close with a rendition of Guys and Dolls’ Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’, a number that highlighted Tapner’s conducting skill, coordinating principal singer, orchestra and choir through the number’s trickier tempo changes with aplomb.
“Just hearing great music is an emotional thrill,” LMTO patrons and composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe enthused, emphasising the unique opportunity the concerts provide to hear a score as it was written.
With two concerts in 2016, a further three intended for 2017 beginning in February, and a plan to scale up to five to seven per year, the professionalised LMTO looks set to become a unique and entertaining feature of London’s musical theatre landscape.
Images: Nick Rutter