The Tale of Two Tribes: Henry Purcell v Jason Derulo

Posted: August 29, 2010 in Show
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Its Tuesday night, its Lothian Road, and the two tribes are out at play.

Outside The Picture House, the youf of Edinburgh, with technicolour hair extensions and funky shoes are anxiously waiting for Jason Derulo, the latest hot Hip Hop, Haitian-American singer.

Outside the Usher Hall, the grey heads mingle affably around their new improved emporium, hail-fellowing their comfortably-clad comrades, awaiting the latest ‘pop’ular stars of renaissance music, The Sixteen, perform Purcell’s Indian Queen.

Two international performers, in top Edinburgh venues, vying for the attention of two high spending tribes.

The Sixteen are currently at number 26 in Classic FM’s Top 40 chart show, with their new album, calculatingly called Music for Inner Peace, featuring works of Byrd, Monteverdi and Palestrina.  Whereas Jason Derulo is number 15 in Radio One’s Top 40 at number 15, down two from last week.  His album is wittily entitled Jason Derulo.

Jason Derulo

Tickets for Jason were £20 whereas The Sixteen ranged from £10 to £40.  Both performers at the height of their artistic careers and appealing to international audiences.

Without subsidy though, the Edinburgh International Festival‘s performance would have easily cost quadruple.

But the best things in life are either free, or subsidised.

The Sixteen is a bit of a misnomer.  There are vastly more than 16 choir members and period instrument orchestra players.   More like 40 performers.  Then there are the world-class soloists, all 11 of them.  If you were in the music biz, I know who I’d book to turn a quick buck.

In fact, when Purcell first proposed his ‘cutting-edge experimental music’, the impresarios  virtually went bankrupt and the actors had to appeal to the Lord Chamberlain to get paid.

The Indian Queen is a crazy convoluted story which would take seven pages for me to explain.  Well, it does in the programme.  And to be honest, best left unread and unsaid.

Mercifully, the actual libretto (words wot goes wida songs) takes up barely 4 pages, even including the ‘Masque of Hymen’ (twitter ye not!) which was written by Henry’s brother Daniel after he had died without completing the work.

The joy of the evening firstly came from the music.  The twirly, zingy recitatives (rapid ululations around one note), the orchestral timbre (really old 17th century instruments like harpsichord, viola da gamba and recorders), the choir and the soloists.

Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw a choir singing the role of ‘Fame’, ‘Envy’, ‘Hymen’ (the Greek god of marriage) and  ‘The God of Dreams’!  They must have forgotten poor Clymene, Zelos, Morpheus’  names.  (I would certainly like to offer up sacrifices to the God of Wikipedia for this particular masterpiece.)

The soloists, especially Roderick Williams, delivered brilliant spectacles of zest and flourish.  Williams’ baroque  expostulations and sibilant hissing was almost a masterclass in beatboxing.

The Sixteen

The orchestra, under their 30-year-long conductor Harry Christophers however, lacked vigour and I found myself trying to conduct them back in time because they did not always play the same beat.

Lastly, the joy came from the lovely grey heads around me, who couldn’t wait to find out what I thought of the evening so far, and what I’d seen, and what did I recommend.

I’d certainly give the Purcell audience the Friendliest Audience Award at my Festival 2010.

And if Jason Derulo’s music passes the Edinburgh International Festival’s very rigorous Test of Time, (300 years +) I’m sure the greys will get to experience his epic music in full subsidised glory.


  1. Rob says:

    Great article. From the sounds of it music for inner peace is really rather exciting.

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