BWW Reviews: SUMMERTIME: AN EVENING OF GERSHWIN, Kenwood House, September 1 2013
In England, big outdoor music events conjure up images of the likes of Mick Jagger at Glastonbury - megastars in megavenues often awash with megamud. In Sweden, things are a little different . The "Allsång på Skansen" style concerts are at smaller outdoor sites and consist very much of old favourites (both in terms of the singers and the songs) to which the audience - sometimes with the Royal Family in the front row - sing-a-long. These shows are on television wall-to-wall in the Summer and, with lyrics scrolling across the screen, anyone can join in.
Summertime: An Evening of Gershwin at Kenwood House (part of the Live by the Lake series of concerts) lay somewhere between these two approaches. The songs (some of the Gershwins' greatest) were old favourites - albeit not singalong - and the stars were big (Michael Ball, Kerry Ellis, Gina Beck), if better known for stage rather than concert work. The audience were mixed - families with children, retirees on fold up chairs, young hipsters wondering with it would be okay to light up a spliff - and the atmosphere was pleasant, if not exactly electric.
Did it work? Well, a qualified yes. The acoustics were excellent, the singing clear and the orchestra, under Jae Alexander, sensational, but I had a nagging feeling that something was missing. Then I realised what it was. Since the visual aspect of big open air shows is mediated for most by the big screens, what's shown is critical for the audience's perception of the event. This show's screens concentrated on the singers - largely static - and the musicians - concentrating on their playing during the songs and sharing private jokes in-between. There was, if truth be told, not much to look at. Though audience shots risk people gawping at the camera or holding up "Hello Mum" signs, they make the show a collective event, changing the concert into something more inclusive, more fun, more involving.
If the producers are wary of turning the concerts into versions of Darts Nights with something of the bierkeller about them, they could have a look at Allsång på Skansen - which shows that a little audience reaction can be a good thing.
You can read more about Live at the Lake events by clicking here.