3 October 2013

Review of British Paraorchestra, Ipswich School Festival of Music

By Rachel Sloane

26 September 2013.

The fourth annual Ipswich School Festival of Music opened in the Great School hall with an orchestra that most of us had last seen on the TV at the opening ceremony of the Paralympics in 2012, and The British Paraorchestra has, since their first visit to Suffolk for the Snape Proms in 2012, gained a well-deserved reputation, releasing a Christmas CD last year.   


The orchestra was begun by well-known conductor (and father of a child with disabilities), Charles Hazelwood, when he observed how few disabled people were in professional orchestras. It plays some intriguing and inspiring music – but don’t expect a traditional performance of Beethoven or Bach! The musicians develop their own individual interpretations of the music they play, be it a folk song such as Greensleeves or Ravel’s Bolero, and then, after rehearsing, they bring together their different interpretations to create an original sound that mixes many musical genres. Their instruments include harp, clarinet, saxophone, piano, etc, but also the oud and “headspace” – a device that uses computer technology to enable a severely disabled musician to contribute to the music. Combined together they create a work that includes some strange and diverse sounds interwoven with familiar tunes.


The orchestra, when it played at the Ipswich School, had 17 members, and all had a disability of some kind (deaf, blind, with limbs missing or wheelchair users), and the first time you see the British Paraorchestra it is impossible not to be amazed and inspired by their achievements. Quickly, however, their disabilities are forgotten by an audience whose attention is caught by their music rather than the challenges faced to produce it.


Having heard the British Paraorchestra at Snape, I again enjoyed their interpretation of Greensleeves, but at second hearing, felt that Bolero was just too long and would be more successful if shortened. When the Paraorchestra tours more, I am sure their repertoire will increase, as much of the programme was a repeat of their Snape appearance. The concert ended on a high point, when they played the aforementioned Christmas single, True Colors, with the singing  by Ipswich School Choir.  


Charles Hazelwood told us that plans were afoot for a Europe-wide “super“ Paraorchestra, that talks were underway for the Rio Paralympics, and that his musicians were about to record an album with some very famous collaborators.


The Ipswich School Festival of Music continued for seven days with workshops, a jazz night (The Joe Stilgoe Trio), a family concert (Peter and the Wolf, Zootube Orchestra), piano and organ recitals, and concerts, including the last night that was dedicated to the sound of the Big Band ( Ipswich Musicians Union Big Band and Ipswich School Big Band). http://www.ipswich.suffolk.sch.uk/about/music-centre/festival-of-music-2013.aspx

True Colors can be dowloaded from YouTube.