Jazz orchestras on an even bigger scale

The Nu Civilisation Orchestra.

The Nu Civilisation Orchestra.

The term jazz orchestra has often been interpreted as a posh big band, with more art and less swing, but it’s a perfectly valid label, and it takes on even more truly orchestral stature at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at London’s South Bank Centre on Sunday. Not one jazz orchestra but two!

The Nu Civilisation Orchestra will be joining the BBC Concert Orchestra for Hidden Voices, a concert programme for BBC Radio 3 highlighting the voices of those who fought for black emancipation in the US back in the early 20th century.

The BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart will be performing William Grant Still’s Symphony No 1 Afro-American, the first by a black American composer to be played by a major orchestra, and Henry Gilbert’s The Dance Place in Congo, while the Nu Civilisation Orchestra conducted by Musical Director, Peter Edwards will perform a medley of Duke Ellington’s work, featuring music from the Cotton Club era, including Black and Tan Fantasy, The Mooche and Mood Indigo. Their set will also feature Harlem Airshaft  – where, according to Ellington, “You get the full essence of Harlem in an airshaft. You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people making love.” – and one of his most famous works, Caravan.

The evening will climax with a collaborative performance of Ellington’s Harlem (A Tone Parallel To Harlem) by members of both orchestras conducted by Keith Lockhart.  The concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Afternoon On 3 at 2pm on Wednesday 17 April.

But why not be in the QE Hall to hear it all first hand?

Says Peter Edwards, “We’re very excited to be performing this arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Harlem Suite with the BBC Concert Orchestra. From the very first note, literally, you feel you’ve landed in a city bursting with creative energy, truly a time of renaissance. The work is typical Ellington: graceful, elegant and of course it’s swinging. It’s a master work that deserves to be better known.”

Founded by Artistic Director, Gary Crosby OBE, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra is no stranger to the work of Duke Ellington, having launched the orchestra in 2008/09 with a tour of the legendary composer’s rarely performed work, The Queen’s Suite, composed in honour of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Hidden Voices is part of the Southbank Centre’s year-long trip through the music of the 20th Century, The Rest Is Noise Festival. It is on Sunday at 7.30pm. For more information and to book tickets, go here.

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