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  • Miles Hedley

COLAB 2022 at St Alfege’s, Old Royal Naval College and Blackheath Halls

Updated: May 24, 2022

One of the most beguiling aspects of CoLab, the annual festival of musical exploration driven and performed by Trinity Laban students, is the breathtaking breadth of its ambition. The 2022 edition, for example, included interpretations of 17th English opera, 18th century Baroque, 19th century German romanticism, 20th century Afrobeat and 21st century hiphop, not to mention a joyous selection of traditional folk tunes from across the globe. And all done and dusted from first sight to performance in a few days. The result, as ever, was simply sensational.

Last year’s 10th anniversary CoLab was played out online because of the pandemic so although this year’s festival still had fewer public events than normal because of continuing concerns about Covid, it felt like the full-blown celebration of music and dance that TL organiser Joe Townsend and his team had always wanted it to be. And whatever it lacked in quantity it certainly made up for in quality.

A series of free concerts at St Alfege’s parish church and the chapel of the Old Royal Naval College provided showcases for students to give us, among many other delights, Far Eastern folksongs as well as works linked to western masters such as Bach, Rachmaninov and Schumann.

My own favourite of these lunchtime recitals was a programme at St Alfege’s contrasting the anguished love songs of Leonard Cohen with Purcell’s tragic opera Dido And Aeneas. The version of So Long Marianne was an emotional tour de force which left barely a dry eye in the house.

CoLab prides itself on interacting with professional ensembles and this year students were joined at Blackheath Halls by the ground-breaking Solem Quartet for an evening of works by Beethoven and Bartók as well as the world premiere of Hitogata (Human Shape) by Jasmine Morris, who used a laptop to perform live alongside the quartet, TL string players and four Laban dancers. It was a magical evening that perfectly encapsulated the collaborative ethos of the festival.

Further afield, Trinity musicians took centre stage at a concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank to mark the 10th anniversary of the London Music Fund.

Then it was all back to Blackheath Halls for the traditional grand finale, which succeeded in combining dazzling musicianship with unbridled joie de vivre.

The evening opened with the moving and beautifully performed Where We Stand by pioneering company Street Wise Opera with a score by Kareem Roustom. It was followed by a fabulous Afrobeat tribute to TL alum Fela Kuti which included the brilliant Keep On Creating which the band had created themselves in only five days. The first half ended with hiphop extravaganza Cypher which brought dozens of audience members out on to the floor.

There was even more audience dancing in the second half which was given over to an hour of songs from every decade of the past 100 years. A 30-piece orchestra with seven lead singers were note perfect as they took us from Duke Ellington’s matchless 1932 classic It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) to 2022’s pulsating We Don’t Talk About Bruno via fabulous versions of pop classics such as Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and Radiohead’s Creep.

It was a glorious end to a glorious fortnight and showed yet again that even in dark days of war, disease and political corruption art shines with a life-affirming light and brings people together in the spirit of unity, creativity, fulfilment and fun.

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