Spectacular Blue Planet in Concert at Abu Dhabi Corniche let down by poor sound quality

The show was a visual treat, but the bad sound quality let the audience down.
The BBC’s highly acclaimed Blue Planet in Concert performed at the start of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover. Ravindranath K / The National
The BBC’s highly acclaimed Blue Planet in Concert performed at the start of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover. Ravindranath K / The National

The BBC’s acclaimed Blue Planet in Concert show arrived in the capital on Friday for its ­regional premiere, which proved to be a wonderful spectacle –, but poor-quality sound meant that it did not quite live up to the high expectations.

The performance, the first of two on consecutive nights kicking off the three-week stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race, featured Abu Dhabi’s 75-piece NSO Symphony Orchestra, with ­Oscar-nominated composer and director, George Fenton as guest conductor.

Appropriately set on the water off the Corniche at the Volvo RaceDestination Village, the performance was accompanied by footage from the original TV documentary series that inspired it, which was displayed above the musicians on a 12-metre-wide screen.

The evening began with a segment titled The Blue Whale. As film of the creature played, the orchestra ebbed and flowed majestically, mimicking the tide of the ocean. The piece gave way to the choir, creating a more haunting melody as the screen displayed scenes of a large school of fish swarming in an impressive well-formed funnel.

The concert consisted of 15 segments split into two acts, some of which were more ­notable than others.

Several times throughout the performance, Fenton offered the audience a little background on a section he was about to conduct. In the absence of David Attenborough’s reassuring tones from the TV series, it was helpful to be reminded about what you were actually looking at in the footage.

One of the more memorable segments, and clearly one that Fenton himself had a special connection with, was La Mer. Using the famous song by the French singer and songwriter, Charles Trenet, the footage was first accompanied by an old recording of the song. Then the orchestra and choir took over, reaching a crescendo while spectacular footage was paired with grim facts about the perilous state of our oceans.

The first act closed with a somewhat disjointed medley of Christmas tunes accompanying polar footage, titled Arctic and Antarctic. While spirited, it seemed to leave many in the audience bemused at the juxtaposition of 12 Days of Christmas in an alfresco Abu Dhabi setting.

The segment highlighting Grey Whales – featuring a threatening, and at times deeply evocative, melody played by the horns and strings – was particularly dramatic.

The Coast segment was also notable, featuring sharp, jolting strikes from the chimes, and a solemn melody from the strings and clarinet section. It was also paired with rather gruesome ­images of a school of Killer Whales hunting baby seals. Their fate, I’m afraid to say, was not a happy one.

Despite the incredible images and ambience, it was difficult not to feel underwhelmed at the end of the concert.

This was in no way the fault of the musicians or Fenton – the actual performance was sterling – but rather a result of the ­mediocre acoustics, which left one feeling disappointingly disconnected from the performance at times.

• The BBC’s Blue Planet in Concert will be followed by two performances from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The group will play on the Corniche Breakwater tomorrow and the Al Jahil Fort in Al Ain on Tuesday

alane@thenational.ae

Published: December 13, 2014 04:00 AM

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