This past St. George’s Day saw a momentous occasion for the city, as our multicultural roots shone brightly as The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians joined with Brit-icon, and frontman to Gorillaz and Blur, Damon Albarn for an event at the Philharmonic Hall. Kieran Linford for SFN writes:
The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians and Damon Albarn took to the stage. We were in the glorious setting of the Liverpool Philharmonic. The performance was within the context of St. George’s day, looking to challenge the common belief that it’s a nationalistic and exclusive day. Hosting this celebration of Syrian music is a serious coup for Liverpool as a cosmopolitan hub.
With the orchestra ready to go, Damon Albarn entered the fray, both receiving a warm welcome. The audience demographic was varied and is a testament to the cultural inclusivity of the event.
Although the night was billed as Damon Albarn and The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, Albarn took a backseat for the most part of the evening, leaving both the Syrian Musicians & the Philharmonic Orchestra very much in the spotlight. The paradox of joy and sorrow was sonically a recurring theme in their set, switching between dissonant vocal glissandos and rapturous harmonious melodies.
One of the first things you notice, listening, is the stunning virtuosity of the players involved. The performance is met with multiple ovations, and as an exercise in technical genius it is astounding.
Later on, Albarn’s rendition of “Out of Time” is transformed by the presence of the Syrian Orchestra. Here, it is more than just a piece of lush orchestral pop; it is a cross-cultural paean, proving collaborators who don’t share the same worldly experience can radically transform a piece of art, often for the better.
It was also striking how humble and charming the Syrian performers were when talking with the audience in between songs, raising spirits further. As a venue, the Philharmonic Hall tends to lean towards formal behaviour. However, we were subject to irresistible rhythms and melodies start to finish. Audience members ascended from their seats without inhibitions, parading around the stalls. Albarn even joined in as a punter. A rare site for the resident orchestra members I’m sure.
An encore of Hamsa‘s “Al Dahleh” was met with a standing ovation and topped off a real monumental occasion for Liverpool, not only as a multicultural hub, but also as a new-found home for this music.
Words by Keiran Linford, photography by Wes Storey.