Sgt. Pepper Returns to an Enthusiastic Sold-out Crowd at Ottawa Chamberfest
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Photos by Alan Viau
Dominion Chalmers Church was already getting hot at the beginning of the concert. It was a sold-out crowd of over 900 people who waited in anticipation for Andrew Burashko's Art of Time Ensemble to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band. There were several standing ovations where the audience demonstrated appreciative enthusiastic love for the musicians who presented this iconic series of songs.
The Beatles's album was lauded, with its release in 1967, by the vast majority of critics for its innovations in music production, songwriting and graphic design, for bridging a cultural divide between popular music and legitimate art, and for providing a musical representation of its generation and the contemporary counterculture. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968, including Album of the Year, the first rock LP to receive this honour.
It was immediately clear when scanning the audience that the vast majority of those present probably at one time owned this album. This was, in some ways, a re-living of the past in some ways, an remembrance of what defined their era. But also as the album itself represented, a vehicle for creativity, a path to other musical dimensions. Andrew Burashko's representation of the songs were true to the intent of the original recording while exploring new avenues of interpretation.
The program listed the songs in order as originally published by the Beatles. However, the evening started with Strawberry Fields. This was brilliant because this song was originally slated to be on the album but cut along with Penny Lane to be made into a 45 rpm release.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band followed with the addition of marimba, a beating piano and violin ornamentation. Faithfully, With A Little Help From My Friends flowed as was represented in the album – which was supposed to mimic a live recording.
I found Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds particularly hypnotic and drifting. It was often said that this song was about LSD and it was appropriate. Getting Better featured the versatility of the percussionist moving around different instruments. Fixing a Hole was played very creatively managing the right amount of discord. She's Leaving Home was just beautifully set up for the surging up and down of the strings. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite is the last song on side one of the album and the end of the first half. It was wonderful with a full instrumental interlude that featured oboe and horn.
The second half or side two, began with Within You, Without You. George Harrison's tune is a bit of a challenge being inspired by Indian music. The orchestra were able to reproduce the sitar, tabla, dilrubas and tamburas sounds with plucked strings, hand muted piano, and percussion beats on the viola and cello. It was amazing.
The singers did acknowledge that the next song When I'm Sixty-Four was apropos for the attending crowd. They really played it up as a rag which was a lovely light and bouncing piece. In contrast, Lovely Rita emphasized a jazz feel featuring the Eb trumpet. Good Morning Good Morning was a feel good fun tune.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) was a more rocking version of the first one. It was followed with the sobering A Day in the Life as placed in the album. It was a really good piece for lamenting violins.
We were treated to four encore songs. The first was Penny Lane which was perfect as a bookend to the concert. The crowd continued to really get into the rest of the songs; Here Comes the Sun, Oh Darling!, and All You Need is Love.
There were a couple of highlights and low-lights in this concert. “Chapeau” to Larry Larson the trumpet player and Colleen Allen mastering woodwinds, whose fabulous instrumental performances really stood out.
My low-lights go to sound engineering. The singers Andy Maize, Craig Northey, Steven Page, and Wesley Stace were often drowned out by the orchestra. The Beatles were known for their vocal quality. For most of the concert, I could not hear the vocalist clearly – they were muddled. A big shame for the talent on-stage who could have shone with better quality microphones, volume balancing, and frequency equalization.
Nonetheless, this concert was a perfect reliving of a time back when – a modern interpretation of the originals that clearly pleased the audience – who left satisfied.