Review: Jocelyn Pook Ensemble at the Bury St Edmunds Festival

Composer Jocelyn Pook who was raised and educated in Bury St Edmunds.

Composer Jocelyn Pook who was raised and educated in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Archant

I probably wouldn’t have seen the Jocelyn Pook Ensemble had it not been for the suggestion of my film buff cousin Tom.

Jocelyn Pook

Jocelyn Pook - Credit: Archant

He told me Jocelyn – originally from Bury St Edmunds – had composed for films by Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, neither of which I’d seen.

So, not knowing what to expect, I got comfortable in my seat at the Apex on Sunday night and waited to be entertained – and I was blown away.

I had never heard a sound like it before: haunting, evocative and with a strong Middle Eastern or Asian influence throughout the whole set.

In fact, a sound I find very difficult to describe.


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According to Jocelyn’s own website the ensemble’s works – featuring music from her albums and film and television scores – are “notoriously difficult to classify”.

“These works contain a fusion of times and cultures – mixing strings and vocals from a classical tradition with medieval instruments, talking drums and found sounds (Yemenite chants, birdsong, children’s playground chatter).”

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She also mixes foreign languages with invented words as well as voices running backwards.

Three pieces from ‘Portraits in Abesentia’ – which was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 in 1999 – featured playbacks of messages left on Jocelyn’s answerphone.

She told the audience she was “fascinated” by the texture of people’s voices.

‘Take Off Your Veil’ – from her album ‘Untold Things’ – and ‘Bleeding Soles’ – from Desh, a dance piece by Akram Khan – were my favourite pieces of the evening, though ‘Migrations’ and ‘Backwards Priests’ from Kubrick’s film ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ may have been more widely known.

All eight musicians in the ensemble – featuring vocals, violin, viola, cello, clarinet and keyboard -are incredibly talented in their own right.

Singers Melanie Pappenheim, Jonathan Peter Kenny, Manickam Yogesawaran and Tanja Tzarovska were breathtaking.

It was disappointing to see so many empty seats at the concert as it was such as opportunity to experience something completely different and support a local woman who has done us proud.

Next time she is performing in town, don’t miss it.

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