Arts and Culture

Unquiet: Speakers Corner Quartet review – a fearless manifesto of musical possibilities

Chamber orchestra Manchester Camerata teamed up with the London group Speakers Corner Quartet for an evening of imaginative music-making on 22 November at New Century Hall in central Manchester.

They started as they meant to go on. The gospel refrain “I’m so glad I have left this world behind” that opened Unquiet signalled a departure from musical conventions that would characterise the remainder of the evening. A bold programme of fusion and experimentation delivered otherworldly performances that were electrifying and, at times, confidently uncomfortable.

Chamber orchestra Manchester Camerata returned this week with its latest edition of Unquiet, a series of collaborations with a rotating cast of artists. On this occasion Manchester Camerata united with the Brixton-based band Speakers Corner Quartet to perform orchestral reimaginings of the group’s acclaimed studio album, ‘Further Out Than The Edge’.

In keeping with the series’ spirit of collaboration and innovation, Manchester Camerata also performed the world premiere of ‘The Separating Line’ by Blasio Kavuma, with vocals provided by the AMC Gospel Choir. A formidable cast of musical forces completed the line-up: core performers were joined by Coby Sey, Confucius MC, James Massiah, Lea Sen, Leilah, Tawiah and Eska, while renowned conductor Robert Ames conducted the orchestra.

Virtuosic performances from soloists throughout the set exploded the capabilities of traditional instruments. Experimental technique and jarring harmonies revealed a group of artists who were unafraid of defying musical expectations as they shaped new sounds. The military precision with which singers executed dense cluster chords and peripatetic melodies flaunted their technical prowess even while producing sounds that were dissonant or forceful.

Eska’s rendition of Out There, In here, for example, stood out as an arresting showcase of vocal agility that took on a bird-like quality as she careered through dizzying whistle notes and meandering melodies.

These unconventional performances were interspersed with songs that were closer to the distinctive blend of soul and hip hop that featured on ‘Further Out Than The Edge’. Careful programming created a dialogue between unfamiliar sounds and very recognisable scenarios such as London neighbourhoods and relationship struggles. The result was a body of work that toyed with identity and alienation as it guided its audience through the full spectrum of musical possibilities.

Throughout the evening, the famous debating site from which Speakers Corner Quartet draw their name was undoubtedly in mind. Much like the manifestos that are proclaimed at Speakers’ Corner, the performers presented a bold vision for the possibilities of music, performance, and co-creation.

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