Gig Review:
The Burning Bush With The BBC Concert Orchestra,
Conductor Robert Ziegler
Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, London SE1
Wednesday, 25th February 2004
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Photo of The BBC Concert Orchestra, Cond. Robert Ziegler
The BBC Concert Orchestra under conductor Robert Ziegler in performance at the RFH
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The BBC Concert Orchestra Presents

The Burning Bush With The BBC Concert Orchestra
Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, London SE1
Wednesday, 25th February 2004 7.30 pm

The Burning Bush

Lucie Skeaping - vocals, violin, rebec
Ben Harlan - clarinets
Roderick Skeaping - violin
Robin Jeffrey - oud, laouto, darabukka, guitar
Jon Banks - kanun, cymbalon, accordion
Robert Levy - double bass

BBC Concert Orchestra

Leader Cynthia Fleming
Robert Ziegler, conductor
Photo of Conductor Robert Ziegler
Robert Ziegler conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra and The Burning Bush
Photo of BBCCO Leader Cynthia Fleming
Cynthia Fleming playing the solo violin in 'Remembrance' from Schindler's List, Robert Ziegler conducting the BBC CO



BBC Concert Orchestra

Elmer Bernstein (b. 1922) - Overture: The Ten Commandments
John Williams (b. 1932) - 'Remembrance' from Schindler's List; Cynthia Fleming, solo violin
Ernest Gold (1921-99) arr. Stanley Black - Theme from Exodus
Robert Ziegler (after traditional sources) - Sephardic Song and Dance:
 1. El Marido Disfrazado
 2. Estampie
Karol Rathaus (1895-1954) - Dance from Uriel Acosta

The Burning Bush

Hassidic Dance
Quando El Rey Nimrod/Makedonikos Syrtos
Sha! Shtil!
Hassidic Dance
Avrix mi Galanica
Odessa Bulgar


The Burning Bush

Ay mancebo
Por la tu puerta
Turkisher Bulgar/Varshaver (Warsaw) Freylekhs
La Princesa y el Segador
Hey Zhankoya!

The Burning Bush and the BBC Concert Orchestra

Roderick Skeaping - The Vanished Shtetl (world premiere)
arr. Roderick Skeaping - S'Dremlin Feygl
Trad., arr. Roderick Skeaping - Doina/Russian Shers

Date of Review: 2004/02/26

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Please also see the overview of the excellent associated free pre-concert RFH Main Foyer performances Vessels of Sound, presented as part of Concert Connections, the BBC Concert Orchestra's notable and laudable Learning Programme.

Photo of The BBC CO & Cond. Robert Ziegler
The BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Robert Ziegler

East Finally Really Meets West

When the BBC and its Radio 3 decided to "do" an orchestral East Meets West concert series, somebody had the vision to include a concert of Jewish music, and whoever that "guilty" party may have been ought to be given much more than a huge pat on the back and congratulated, even feted. A better choice of orchestra in the BBC Concert Orchestra also could have hardly been made. Not so much on account of its home being the Golders Green Hippodrome, but rather because of the extremely wide range of music that this, Britain's best-loved orchestra, is accustomed to performing, which makes it possibly one of the most flexible and widely-experienced orchestras around with a long history of enterprising programming. Add to this conductor extraordinaire Robert Ziegler, and further Lucie Skeaping and The Burning Bush and a world premiere of a specially commissioned new work by Roderick Skeaping plus an original arrangement of traditional Sephardi Jewish music by Ziegler, and you have a recipe for a very promising and distinguished occasion indeed.

Photo of BBC CO Trombone & Tuba section
The BBC CO trombone section and tuba in rehearsal

The illustrious Robert Ziegler, one of the most versatile and multi-faceted musicians on the UK scene, will hardly need any introduction, and indeed one can only look forward with greatest anticipation to his latest forthcoming collaboration with Lebanese-born jazz oud virtuoso and composer Rabih Abou-Khalil. The Skeapings likewise will need little introduction to anybody with half an ear on the Early Music or the Jewish Music scenes in Britain, and Lucie Skeaping will also be familiar as a presenter of Radio 3's weekend Early Music Show. With The Burning Bush, the Skeapings specialise in a mix of traditional Jewish material from the Eastern European Ashkenazi as well as from the Sephardi traditions, ranging from Yiddish song, klezmer tunes and Chassidic nigunim to Ladino romancas and cantigas.

Photo of The Burning Bush
Roderick and Lucie Skeaping, Ben Harlan of The Burning Bush in concert

Attending the afternoon rehearsals confirmed, if indeed there had been any room for doubt, that this would be a very exciting concert indeed. It was also easy to see why Robert Ziegler is such a popular conductor with the many orchestras he works with. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he brings out the very best in his fellow musicians with a minimum of effort. Ziegler's body is at one with the music, his movements are like a gentle, elegant, almost delicate dance, it's almost as if he were floating in mid-air, the laws of gravity suspended. After the mid-rehearsal break, it was time for the final segment featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra together with The Burning Bush. Roderick Skeaping's violin solos proved nothing short of stunning and breathtaking. A very special performance to look forward to indeed.

Photo of Roderick Skeaping
Roderick Skeaping in rehearsal with The Burning Bush and the BBC CO

Photo of Lucie Skeaping
Lucie Skeaping in rehearsal with The Burning Bush and the BBC CO

Photo of Robin Jeffrey
Robin Jeffrey of The Burning Bush, here on laouto, with the BBC CO in rehearsal
Photo of Lucie Skeaaping with Roderick Skeaping
Lucie and Roderick Skeaping in concert

Photo of Robert Levy
The Burning Bush in concert - bassist Robert Levy

Rehearsals over, it was time to attend the pre-concert series of Royal Festival Hall main foyer events under the title of Vessels of Sound, presented by the BBC Concert Orchestra as part of Concert Connections, the BBC CO's Learning programme, which turned out to be quite gratifyingly well attended indeed and which is reviewed separately here.

For the main concert itself, the RFH filled up rapidly to very near capacity with very few seats left unclaimed. The first part of the concert saw the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Robert Ziegler, performing a number of orchestral selections by Jewish composers or on Jewish themes, opening with Elmer Bernstein's Overture from his score for the Cecil B. DeMille movie The Ten Commandments. This score still stands out as one of the most unusual, adventurous and riveting examples of the genre with its extraordinary blending of Eastern European modes, American contemporary invention and motivic themes representative of the major protagonists of the story. The performance of the overture was flawless and was followed by a sensitive, haunting rendition of Remembrance from Schindler's List by John Williams. It is extremely difficult to mentally divorce this music from its harrowing movie, or at any rate from the nightmarish emotions of sheer horror, despair, and grief that the film imparts, and I can never quite make up my mind whether Williams' exquisite and deeply moving score intensifies these emotions or makes them just a little bit more bearable. As with Spielberg's film itself, I have always found I can only bear the music in small segments before needing a break as the grief becomes overwhelming and unbearable. It was therefore most welcome that the programme was limited to this one gentle cue. The solo violin part was played exquisitely by BBC CO leader Cynthia Fleming. Rapturous applause greeted the conclusion of this fine performance, and indeed throughout this extraordinary event the RFH audience proved most enthusiastic and appreciative.

Photo of Robert Ziegler & The BBC CO
Robert Ziegler conducting the BBC CO in concert

The programme continued with Ernest Gold's outstanding Theme from Exodus, the real "star" of Otto Preminger's 1960 film of the same title, and another extremely finely judged performance by the BBC CO and conductor Robert Ziegler. Sephardic Song and Dance saw Ziegler also shining as composer/arranger. The first of the two pieces is based on a Judeo-Spanish song, El Marido Disfrazado, while the second is a lively Estampie rooted in a North African instrumental piece. Robert Ziegler's translation into a Western orchestral idiom was made with greatest sensitivity and worked beautifully, with fine orchestration often reminiscent of Ravel and de Falla, and a superlative performance all round. The BBC CO segment of the concert came to a close with Karol Rathaus' Dance from Uriel Acosta. This is drawn from the incidental music for a play titled Uriel Acosta which Rathaus was commissioned to compose for a Jewish theatre during his time in Berlin prior to the rise of the Nazis. Dance on Hebrew Themes, to give this piece its full title, an animated setting of several traditional Jewish melodies, proved yet another delightful performance.

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Opening their segment of the concert with a Hassidic Dance, The Burning Bush captivated and delighted with an exhilarating performance. Lucie Skeaping then charmed with her captivating rendition of the Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) devotional song Quando El Rey Nimrod, which was segued into Makedonikos Syrtos, a wedding dance from the Sephardi tradition of Thessaloniki. Sha! Shtil! returned to the Ashkenazi tradition of Eastern Europe with this song in Yiddish. Ms. Skeaping effortlessly switched back and forth between songs from the Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions, between Ladino and Yiddish, sounding equally at home with both throughout, her light and effortless voice a pure delight. Equally charming were Lucie Skeaping's informative introductions to each song, sometimes with humorous interjections from Robin Jeffrey. Blessed with one of those immensely listenable and charismatic speaking voices that alas seem all too rare today, Ms. Skeaping could have kept her audience spellbound for a whole evening with just her introductions.

Another instrumental Hassidic Dance followed before we were treated to a gently humorous Ladino love song from the Balkans, Avrix mi Galanica. The Burning Bush closed the first half of their segment and thereby of the concert itself with a fiery rendition of one of the best known klezmer tunes, Odessa Bulgar, something of a virtuosic showpiece that the Burning Bush made sound easy.

While generally, The Burning Bush use a traditionalist approach to their material and also in their instrumentation, they are by no means strangers to experimentation and innovation. The use of a bass clarinet (with full extension), played superbly by Ben Harlan, in the opening piece of the second half was a stroke of sheer genius, its deep unearthly rumble in its chalumeau register most effective. Ay mancebo is a fragment of a longer Ladino romanca, traditionally sung at engagement parties, its text probably being of medieval Judeo-Spanish origin, while the melody is Ottoman Turkish and the rhythm is described as Balkan 7/8, although it seems likely that this rhythm itself originally came to the Balkans from the Middle East. This was followed by the poignant Ladino love song Por la tu puerta, which combines Judeo-Spanish lyrics with a Turkish refrain, sung by Lucie Skeaping with an almost other-worldly beauty and delicacy. Two segued lively klezmer instrumentals returned us to the Ashkenazi tradition, Turkisher Bulgar and Varshaver (Warsaw) Freylekhs. A final visit to the Sephardi tradition presented an outstanding example of the great tradition of Ladino narrative ballads in the form of La Princesa y el Segador, collected in Salonika, another of the great centres of Sephardi culture following the expulsion from Spain. Hey Zhankoya!, a Yiddish song celebrating Zhankoya, a Crimean Jewish shtetl that was completely destroyed by the Nazis, concluded The Burning Bush's segment on a nostalgic note.

The Burning Bush gave an outstanding performance that amply justified their long-standing reputation as one of the leading traditional Jewish music ensembles. One of their greatest strengths is that, rather than confining themselves to the Ashkenazi tradition and being a straight klezmer/Yiddish song band, they equally wholeheartedly embrace the glorious Sephardi tradition of Ladino song. Whether presenting music from the one tradition or the other, The Burning Bush's excellence this night was breathtaking. Roderick Skeaping's violin and arrangements bear the stamp of true greatness. The violin, rebec and voice of Lucie Skeaping are as exquisite, and the sheer excellence of the entire ensemble is lofty indeed and of impeccable pedigree.

Photo of BBC CO timpanist Stephen Webberley
The BBC CO in performance - timpanist Stephen Webberley

Photo of The Burning Bush
The Burning Bush in concert
(L to R, Robert Levy, Jon Banks, Roderick & Lucie Skeaping, Robin Jeffrey [hidden behind Lucie Skeaping], Ben Harlan)

Photo of The Burning Bush
The Burning Bush in concert - Robert Levy, bass, Jon Banks, kanun, Robin Jeffrey, oud, Roderick Skeaping, violin, Lucie Skeaping, vocal, and Ben Harlan, here on bas clarinet

Photo of the BBC CO and The Burning Bush
Conductor Robert Ziegler congratulates composer Roderick Skeaping upon the hugely successful world premiere of The Vanished Shtetl

This evening's final segment found The Burning Bush performing together with the BBC Concert Orchestra under conductor Robert Ziegler, opening with the world premiere of Roderick Skeaping's The Vanished Shtetl. This work was specially commissioned for the occasion. Consisting of five segments, The Vanished Shtetl could broadly be described as a symphonic poem. Strongly influenced by Chassidic nigunim and the klezmer idiom, it was a truly inspired composition as well as a truly inspired performance all round. Opening with a dramatic, steadily rising Chassidic-style wordless chorus with profound impact, this work proved utterly captivating and compelling. The middle segment consisted of the Israeli song Shir ha emek (Song of the Valley), with lyrics by Natan Alterman and melody by David Sambursky, sung most memorably by Lucie Skeaping. Another highpoint of this work was Roderick Skeaping's brilliant violin solo which was as though not of this world. The finale of The Vanished Shtetl, Klezmer Medley, was an exuberant medley of traditional klezmer tunes with a strong New World flavour. Robert Ziegler took the BBC CO to ever greater dizzying heights of excellence. The work and the performers were greeted with a most enthusiastic, rapturous ovation, more than well deserved.

Photo of Robert Ziegler, the BBC CO and The Burning Bush
Robert Ziegler conducting the BBC CO and The Burning Bush, with Ben Harlan (clarinet) at right and Robin Jeffrey and Robert Levy (bass) at left

S' Dremlin Feygl
, a ghetto lullaby bearing witness to the horrors of the Shoah, arranged by Roderick Skeaping, followed and was given a touching interpretation by Lucie Skeaping that was matched perfectly by the sensitive accompaniment of the BBC CO and the other members of The Burning Bush under Ziegler's brilliant touch. The concert concluded with two segued traditional klezmer tunes, a Doina and a medley of three Russian Shers, again arranged by Skeaping. And again, Ziegler's unimpeachable direction extracted every last ounce of excellence from the BBC CO and The Burning Bush. The ovation that followed made an encore as inevitable as night following day.

Both separately and together, Robert Ziegler and the BBC Concert Orchestra and The Burning Bush provided a concert experience that was unforgettable and unquestionably brilliant. Many if not most previous East-Meets-West type musical encounters, except largely in the jazz world which pioneered the concept and practice way back in the 1950s, at least the better known examples, over the last four or five decades have at best been unsatisfying and often downright embarrassments if not complete abject failures. Tonight's extraordinary event however proved that the Western classical world can meet and successfully interact with the musical traditions of other cultures, and did so with greatest style and sheer brilliance and without any hint of lack of substance. This was pure magic, the evening an unqualified and huge success both artistically and in terms of audience reception.

The concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 10th March as part of Radio 3's East Meets West series, and one would strongly hope and wish that the BBC would issue the whole of this exhilarating concert on a double or triple CD. It is also to be hoped that the success of this wonderful occasion will inspire further such enterprising and imaginative projects.

In addition to the performers themselves, kudos surely must also go to the enterprise and vision of the managerial and other behind the scenes decision-makers who sanctioned this outstanding project. Credit must also be given to all the BBC Concert Orchestra management and stage, lighting and sound crews, the usually unsung heroes without whom such concerts simply couldn't happen. I should further like to extend a personal thank you to BBC CO Marketing Manager Lisa Owen-Jones and particularly Marketing Officer Jo Johnson without whose superb liaison this review would not have been possible.


© 2004 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.


Photo of Lucie Skeaping and The Burning Bush, with Robert Ziegler and the BBC CO
Lucie Skeaping receiving a bouquet at the close of the performance, with (L to R) Roderick Skeaping, Jon Banks, and conductor Robert Ziegler and the BBC Concert Orchestra
N.B. - For those who missed this superb concert or would like to repeat the experience, there will be another opportunity to catch the BBC Concert Orchestra with Lucie Skeaping and The Burning Bush, conductor Robert Ziegler, next February in Chichester, West Sussex. This is excellent news indeed. Full details of this repeat performance are:

Thursday 3rd February 2005, 7.30pm
Chichester Festival Theatre
Tickets £10, £18, £26 and £30
Box Office 01243 781312

More on this and other forthcoming BBC Concert Orchestra concerts on the calendar page shortly.

More pictures from The Burning Bush and The BBC Concert Orchestra concert and rehearsal on Page 2

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