Music

An evening with Karl Jenkins – the most performed living composer in the world

I could be described as having an eclectic taste in music; from classic rock, punk and various shades of metal to folk, pop, Motown, some rather embarrassing guilty pleasures through to classical, choral and opera.

So it is with sheer glee that I’m sitting in a packed-to-the-rafters Royal Albert Hall, anticipating the arrival of conductor, composer and septuagenarian, Karl Jenkins. Karl’s work has been used extensively across film, TV and major ad campaigns – including Delta Airlines (Adiemus) and De Beers (Palladio), Levis and the now infamous Papa? Nicole? ads for Renault Clio.

Karl Jenkins was first thrust upon me, or rather myself and the 80 or so other young ladies, back in my school choir heyday. Not content with singing from the usual scholarly repertoire, ala John Rutter et al, our choir mistress took a punt and presented us with Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary.

For the uninitiated, Adiemus is a body of work featuring songs that rather unusually do not feature any discernible words – instead, Jenkins employs syllables and invents his own language. If I haven’t lost you, the resultant end product is a wonderful cacophony of gospel/African/ethno-choral work.

For a bunch of chattering 14-year-olds this was no mean feat, however it obviously made an impression on us. For we may as well have been singing in Swahili, but to this day I still remember a large amount of the words.

With Karl Jenkins at the helm of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Royal Choral Society flanked behind them, the stage is set. The opener, Allegretto by Palladio, is sublime and indicative of what’s to follow the rest of the evening.

As promised, we’re treated to excerpts from all of Karl Jenkins’ most popular works including The Armed Man, The Peacemakers, Stabat Mater, Requiem, Benedictus and, of course, Adiemus.

The stand outs for me are without a doubt the majestic Stabat Mater – Sancta Mater – an incredible piece, and when heard live it was actually a little bit frightening! The relentless thundering rhythm of Requiem: Dies Irae, and of course various excerpts from Adiemus, including the title song, Cantus and In Caelum Fero.

The programme has been structured in a really clever way. It takes the audience from musical storm to quietude and back again, demonstrating the diversity of Jenkins. I can’t quite say I’ve ever enjoyed a classical concert as much, and at one point I have to confess I’m moved to tears – that hasn’t happened since I saw the original line-up of Black Sabbath on stage many years ago!

I’m fairly certain that you can’t quite appreciate the full enormity and depth of Karl Jenkins’ music digitally – this is very much music to be enjoyed live. And being more accessible than people may first imagine it’s the perfect route in for classical first timers or those just naturally curious about music.

Karl Jenkins is apparently now the most performed living composer in the world and has won many accolades including an OBE, CBE and Classic FM’s Hall of Fame. From this evening’s performance and standing ovation, the audience agrees.

Missed Karl Jenkins in London? See him in Manchester and Birmingham later this year – tickets are available here.

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