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SHAPESHIFTER: VENUS BLAZING at Blackheath Halls

Updated: Feb 11, 2019


Trinity Laban is right in the middle of a season of concerts celebrating women composers. The series is called Venus Blazing, the title of a dazzling sonata by Deirdre Gribbin, who as well as her global writing fame is also on TL’s teaching staff.


She was in the audience at Blackheath Halls as the concerto was played by Shapeshifter, a 38-strong student orchestra directed on this occasion by internationally acclaimed conductor Kwamé Ryan.


And what a treat it was for us – and, I hope, for Gribbin – to hear her remarkable composition brought to pulsating life by this group of super-talented young musicians.


Venus Blazing was inspired by both our brilliant planetary neighbour and the ancient goddess of love – and Shapeshifter’s take captured beautifully the cosmic power and mythic status of its subject with a combination of interstellar energy fuelled by the virtuosic percussion of Malgorzata Kepa and Tom Plumridge and the divine violin playing of guest soloist Lana Trotovšek.


It was a truly magnificent rendition – yet it made up only one part of the concert.


The evening had opened with the world premiere of Focal by Trinity student James Layton, a piece based on a distorted single chord which slowly clears into view under the many lenses of the orchestration. I heard a fellow audience member call it intriguing and filmic – a perfect description.


There was an interval after Venus Blazing and the second half was given over to Beethoven’s rarely performed Symphony No8, which marked a spectacular change of mood as Ryan guided the orchestra through the unusually upbeat movements of the work.


It also proved that Shapeshifter’s name is well chosen, because this was a concert of surprising musical contrasts lavishly adorned with virtuosity, earthy good cheer and otherworldly beauty.