Janet McAllister: Urban with a classical flava

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Rapper Anonymouz was among the tutors for the four-day 
composing course. Photo / Supplied
Rapper Anonymouz was among the tutors for the four-day composing course. Photo / Supplied

Hard, solid and bad; that's how several Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra musicians were described at the annual Remix urban/classical mash-up last week at the Otara Music Arts Centre.

No, they weren't being compared to stale cake or hotel pillows; those adjectives mean the musos had impressed, as Remix presenter - rapper and composer Anonymouz (aka Matt Faiumu Salapu) - hastened to add.

Ingrid Hagan, wearing a lip ring, jeans and studded boots, was on the bassoon ("it's not a buffoon, nor a bazooka!" explained Anonymouz helpfully).

APO's assistant concertmaster Miranda Adams played a green violin. Classical music has a reputation in Auckland's hip-hop stronghold for being "disciplined and serious - if you play out of turn you get into trouble", as Anonymouz put it.

But the clear message was: that doesn't mean we can't have some fun.

Now in its sixth year, "Remix the Orchestra" is an intriguing and worthwhile project, for participants, tutors and concert-goers alike.

Fifteen musicians (often tertiary music students) with an interest in R'n'B and hip hop music are put through an intensive four-day composing course with APO and urban musicians, before performing the results in a free concert.

This year, tutors included APO composer-mentor Ken Young, rapper Dei Hamo (as hip hop mentor), Hagan, Adams, a trumpeter, double bass player, percussionist, a singer (JEM), the multi-talented Anonymouz and several others.

The resulting tracks were more urban with a classical flava, rather than classical with a contemporary touch.

Some participants used the classical sounds merely as stick-on decorations. Their product was pretty, but fairly standard - after all, strings have been used in pop music at least since I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

But others obviously thrived in the pressure-cooker situation, and drew from both traditions to create exciting sounds.

In Watchu DNT Kno "for all the ladies out there who have dramas with their man", we heard bassoon arpeggios and composer Nelza's (Danelle Brown) fast, low rap contrasting nicely with the flowing violin, sweet, high piano and trumpet curlicues.

In the last piece by Juqe (music teacher Davin Torquist), an urgent, repeated phrase by both bassoon and violin had the energy of Philip Glass or a Peter Greenaway soundtrack, layered under Juqe's droning rap.

Siosaia Folau "aka Syah, aka The Man, aka the Ladies Man" was the comedian of the evening, telling us about the stain on his T-shirt hidden by his guitar strap, and singing about running to the icecream truck. He had the classical musicians doing solo improvisations in his jazzy number named after Carina St in Henderson, and included a riff inspired by Sesame Street.

When writing about collaboration, it's really hard not to sound like an APO publicity puff right now; they're doing so much with so much gusto and creativity, it's enough to impress a hardened hack.

Next Tuesday is the world premiere of Pounamu, a folk roots concerto co-written by Little Bushman's Warren Maxwell and APO composer-in-residence John Psathas.

And on May 11 is Works with Words (as part of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival), the result of an ambitious, two-year programme for several composers. Their mission: to write music for poetry. The method: regular experimentation on the live orchestra while developing the works.

Works with Words composer Yvette Audain was once told to choose her collaborators wisely, not only for their technical excellence but for their "good vibe".

As seen at Remix, APO's vibe is mean as.

- NZ Herald

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