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Manchester Camerata: BREATHE – Seven Arts, Leeds

Reviewer: Ray Taylor

This show takes its audience on a beautiful, powerful and cinematic experience. The venue itself is perfectly suited to the sort of intimacy required to fully immerse oneself in the remarkable sounds of 21st-century string quartet music that is expertly performed in the first half by four absolutely brilliant players – leader on violin 1 Caroline Pether, Joy Becker on violin 2, Alistair Vennart on viola and Paul Grennan on cello. Seven Arts is an independent artspace with a hundred seat capacity that is regularly sold out (as it was on this occasion). It is versatile, able to present film, theatre, dance, music, words and comedy, and also has an attractive and welcoming cafe bar. Because the musicians are not far from the audience there is the feeling that they are almost playing in your front room and this atmosphere of intimacy perfectly lends itself to self reflection and meditation.

In the first half there are five works: Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 3: vi Mishima; Ben Nobuto’s Skip; Arvo Part’s Da Pacem Domine; Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s Mento Mood; and Shiva Feshareki’s VENUS/ZOHREH. These were all thoroughly entertaining and wonderfully performed, producing an amazing sound that was actually breathtaking and enthusiastically appreciated by the audience. These were all 21st century pieces that even the well immersed classical music aficionado might be tempted to overlook but to do so would be a crime. For here was a dazzling programme that showcased some of the best that this form of music has to offer. From the sombre but uplifting tones of the Glass to the challenging shifts in tempo of the Nobuto to the rhythmic beats and calypso swing of the Witter-Johnson (which also included some singing and vocal harmonies from the soloists which was different but perfectly appropriate), this concert was a delight from start to finish. The first half closes with a very informative Q&A session which fills in some more details of the music and the creative processes involved.

In the second half there is a showing of BREATHE, a 50 minute original orchestral work made especially for the screen. It features newly commissioned music from critically acclaimed composer Daniel Kidane, performance poet Roma Havers, music creator Ben Nobuto and directed by Matthew Beckett of River Rea Films. The setting of the film is the historic, disused Swimming Baths in Manchester. The concept is to immerse oneself in meditative sounds and spectacular visual landscapes, to pause and reflect, take the time to break from the fast-paced world in which we live today and hold oneself in a space of well-being and mindfulness.

Does it work? I suppose the answer to that is up to the individual. It depends on how susceptible you are to being able to let yourself go and surrender yourself to the sounds and images being presented to you. Overhearing some of the audience members’ comments afterwards this reviewer got the impression that they enjoyed the first half more than the second, but don’t be put off. The nature of the experience is slightly different from what you would normally expect from a film but this deliberately challenges audiences to feel immersed by what they’re watching. There are three distinct elements to the film- the orchestra, the movement people and the location – and during its course you see how these three gradually intercept and interact with each other. Whilst you are always conscious of hearing sounds you don’t actually see the full orchestra performing until the final scene when they all come together in a dazzling and harmonious whole. Along the way various individuals have fully explored their surroundings in a tactile and bodily way, interspersed at regular intervals by the written word on the screen and spoken poetry. The protagonists start from a position of isolation and gradually learn to come together. The theme is what it means to be together and togetherness should be as natural and automatic as is the act of breathing itself.

This film will not appeal to everybody but give it a go and let your inner soul breathe and relax.

Reviewed on 21st March 2024.

The Reviews Hub Score

Stunning and Meditative

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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