As always, the Northern Lights put on a fabulous show to a packed crowd in the Gala Theatre as part of the Durham Vocal Festival.
The performance began with a supporting act, Urban Voice, a youth a capella choir from Egglescliffe School in Stockton-on-Tees. Despite some initial peeking round the curtains, the copious preparation that went into the ensuing performance was clear to see.
The intonation was secure and harmonies usually very well balanced, although there could have been more dynamic range, particularly on the softer side, such as in the backing vocals. The soloists were fantastic, grabbing the stage with powerful, expressive singing. The text was very clear and well memorised, albeit some consonants could have more clarity. At times I felt there could have been more emotion and enthusiasm across the choir, though largely the engagement was great to see, especially in ‘Man in the Mirror’.
The picking up of tempo changes was immediate and together – difficult to do without a conductor or being able to see each other! Although the choreography generally could have been a bit more unified and perhaps more complex, and an indication to their accompanist/director would have been courteous, I am sure they will learn a lot from their upcoming workshop with Northern Lights. It is amazing to see how accomplished a choir from one school of this age can be. Overall, a job well done!
Northern Lights continued the concert with a diverse, flowing programme. The professional atmosphere created by the well-rehearsed, complex choreography, the lighting effects and passionate singing was set from the beginning. In between songs they froze their positions, and these positions were often how the next song began, which was very effective. I think it would be even more so if the facial composure was consistently held during the applause. Although most of the group were absolutely engaged, I could have seen even more from some.
The soloists (of which virtually every singer was at some point) all sang beautifully, stylishly and with incredibly touching emotion, often giving me goosebumps. Oscar’s vocals are largely wonderful, Miranda was excellent in her stunning solo. Yuki ‘Yukebox’ Matsumoto, the beat boxer, really grounded the ensemble and displayed some very impressive beat boxing skills in a solo freestyle. The duets could have been a bit more matched in dynamic, as I couldn’t always hear both voices.
Intonation was virtually always impeccable, though at times when there are just short bursts of sound the notes can get a little lost. The dynamic range was good and the balance fantastic throughout, though at times I would have liked to hear more of the bass. Sometimes a soprano would suddenly give a piercing high note that stops everything in its tracks. The judgement of phrasing was very satisfying and the performance constantly remarkably together, regardless of where the singers were stood.
The last song even compelled the audience to join in, clapping in time. Both this song and the encore were rewarded with standing ovations as the theatre went wild.
The buzzing atmosphere and energy that this tight-knit ensemble commands brought tears, laughter and awe to the audience, which itself impressively constitutes not just students but multiple demographics. Huge congratulations to the arrangers of all the music performed. I wish them the best of luck in the ICCAs and their upcoming performances both here in Durham on 4 March and in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.