Andrew Phillips, tonight’s conductor, began his association with Gary Brooker when he assembled the Chameleon Arts Chorus to sing on 1995’s The Long Goodbye, subtitled the Symphonic Music of Procol Harum. The Chorus reconvened alongside the London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Nicholas Dodd, for Procol’s triumphant Barbican Concert in 1996. Gary and Andy collaborated again for the first concert by the Gary Brooker Ensemble, and players and singers from the roster of Chameleon Arts Management have been involved each time the Ensemble has played.
Since 1987 Chameleon orchestras have performed in churches, cathedrals and concert halls throughout the country; they can regularly be heard at venues such as St John’s Smith Square, St Martin-in-the-Fields and Snape Maltings. Tonight’s Chameleon Arts String Orchestra comprises some of the country’s leading freelance players, and specialises in concert performances of the fine string repertoire; the players have a wide knowledge and experience of works regularly performed by choral societies.
Gary Brooker’s admiration for choral music dates back to a teenage visit to the Aldwych Theatre, where he witnessed the British tour of The Black Nativity by Langston Hughes (‘the poet laureate of Harlem’ as he was known). ‘It blew me away,’ says Gary, ‘that huge choir, organ, tambourines ...’ . Tonight’s Chameleon Arts Choir does not attempt to imitate the sound, nor the volume, of the black gospel choirs; they rather contribute something much more appropriately English to the already-churchy harmonies that characterise Brooker’s more reflective writing.
Tonight’s choral menu includes, among other pieces, the Desideratus written by Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens, heard at London’s memorial service for galactic hitch-hiker Douglas Adams, the ultimate Procol Harum fan; this was another musical event at which Chameleon worked alongside Gary Brooker. Chameleon enjoy their involvement in ‘crossover’ music. Andy Phillips smilingly recalls their part in the Beavis and Butthead movie, where, for a cathedral scene, his singers had to sing a litany of four-letter expletives in plainchant style. ‘Sadly, the rich language was mostly lost in a welter of reverb,’ he confesses. His singers are of course accustomed to Latin, which has been extensively used in Gary’s Ensemble reworking of A Salty Dog; perhaps more surprising is the opening of Holding On, which obliges them to chant ‘Who’s got the power? You have!’ in Swahili! But The Chameleon artists all enjoy their encounters with Gary Brooker and his music: ‘He may not have had any formal training,’ Andy observes, ‘but his arrangements are “very user-friendly”.’
From a village church to the army’s Catholic HQ to a major contemporary cathedral: the venues for the Ensemble’s performances get larger and larger, and so do the string sections required: first four players, then nine, and now fifteen; tonight’s first violins are Richard Smith (leader), Rebekah Allan, Tom Jackson, Alys Hellewell; second violins David Burton, Chris Koh, Sebastian Rudnicki, Lauren Abbott; violas Jason Glover, Adrian Smith, Nick Bowers-Broadbent; 'Celli Lorraine Deacon, Anna Chalmers, Helen Glover; double bass Adam Precious. They will be joined on harp by Fiona Clifton-Welker, and on the organ by Jeremy Filsell whom Andy met when they were lay clerks singing in Guildford Cathedral in the 1980s.
Jeremy Filsell has established a concert career as one of only a few virtuoso performers on both piano and organ. He has performed as a solo pianist in Russia, the USA and across the UK: his concerto repertoire encompasses Mozart and Beethoven through to Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and John Ireland. As an organist, his extensive discography comprises solo discs for Guild, Signum, Herald and ASV, and he has broadcast regularly for UK BBC Radio 3 in solo and concerto roles. A Limpus prize winner for FRCO as a teenager, Jeremy was Organ Scholar at Keble College Oxford, studying postgraduate piano at the Royal College of Music. At present he is a Lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music, teaches piano at Eton and is a Lay Clerk in the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor. He is completing a PhD thesis on the music of Marcel Dupré, whose Bach arrangements are a staple of his organ repertoire.
Aged only three when Procol Harum first topped the charts, Jeremy admits rather to having listened to Genesis, Rush and Yes in his formative years: he enjoyed their idiosyncratic rhythms, as well as the tight arrangements of outfits like Earth Wind and Fire, but was ‘always drawn more towards Scriabin and Chopin as far as performance was concerned.’ He grew up well-aware of Procol’s music, however; flying back from the USA (recitals in Florida and at the Cathedral of the Rockies) for tonight’s show, he looks forward to collaborating with Gary Brooker and the Ensemble.
Tonight’s Cathedral concert further develops the Ensemble’s established formula, a mixed programme in which all the participants will get be heard doing what they do best, from an organ showcase, through the blue-eyed soul of Gary’s rock and gospel compositions, to some choral pieces from the English tradition and some native, pastoral string music. Everybody giving their time and talents in this noble charitable cause trusts that you will richly enjoy the evening’s entertainment.