Jon Lord

Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

16 June 2010

My second visit to Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall. My first visit was two years ago to hear Jon Lord's new concert suite. Now I'm there again to hear... oh, Jon Lord's new concert suite!

I would say the venue was about half full and judging by the t-shirts and conversations around me I would guess that at least half the audience were "old" Jon Lord fans and not general classical music fans.

It was probably the most annoying audience I have ever sat in for an orchestral concert, with a lot of fidgeting, whispering, leaving to go to the loo in the middle of the quiet bits, and even a mobile phone going off! When I'm listening to music, I want to be able to forget there's an audience there and concentrate on the music. (This isn't just a complaint I have at orchestral concerts, I find audiences just as annoying at rock concerts. Maybe I'm just getting intolerant in my old age.)

Anyway, I'll try to forget the audience and describe the music.

The first half had Jon playing piano with a smallish orchestra (strings and a bit of wind) and opened with The Telemann Experiment, which I find one of his most memorable pieces — it's what I was humming all the way home from the concert. Then Evening Song, rewritten as an instrumental for piano and orchestra. It's a nice enough tune but I'm not convinced it really works without the lyrics.

Then the new work: To Notice Such Things for solo flute, piano and string orchestra, dedicated to the Late Sir John Mortimer. It comes in six short movements, each one representing an aspect of Mortimer's life, and lasts about 30 minutes.

It's hard to talk about a piece of music I've only heard once, so I'll report properly after I've played the CD a few times. But it has typical "Jon Lord" trademarks: long, melancholy cello tunes, big string crescendos, and generally it sounds like a piece of mid-20th-century classical music. If you like all that, you'll probably like this piece. If you don't... then you probably won't like Jon Lord's music at all.

I was very impressed with the flute cadenza (Cormac Henry on flute). I think more people should be writing flute concertos. Flutes are cool.

The second half consisted of what is genuinely my favourite piece of orchestral music: Concerto for Group and Orchestra. I have heard this seven times now (that's every UK performance, except the first) and I'm still surprised by how different it sounds each time. Not just in the improvised solos, that's to be expected, but the orchestra always sounds different too. Anyway, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, conducted by Clark Rundell, sounded as good as any orchestra I have heard. But different. That's all I can say about it — I don't have the technical knowledge to explain what I mean.

The soloists: Jon Lord on Hammond B3, obviously. Miller Anderson on vocals (it was supposed to be Steve Balasamo but he pulled out due to illness). To be perfectly honest, I think Balsamo's voice suits the Concerto better, but Anderson made a good job of it. Don Richardson on bass guitar, Steve White on drums — tremendous drum solo, and (unlike a certain Deep Purple drummer) he remembered the cow-bell rhythm he was supposed to end with to cue the orchestra back in!

The star of the night for me was Mark Zyk on guitar. Call me old-fashioned, but there's just something right about a man in black playing a white Stratocaster, especially on the same stage as Jon Lord. (Yes, I know Ritchie never played the Concerto on a Strat, doesn't matter, it still feels right.) Zyk plays with a beautiful tone and superb technique that owes a lot to Ritchie Blackmore — I only wish he had extended his solos a LOT longer!

The concert ended with a standing ovation, then an encore of Pictured Within, Millar Anderson sounding a lot more comfortable singing the song that was written for him. Then another standing ovation, and that was it.

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