LIVE: Shabaka Hutchings with Britten Sinfonia, Live at the Barbican

Finding a meeting place between jazz and classical is not as easy as the formal elements might suggest, but in this one-off collaboration for EFG London Jazz Festival, Hutchings and Britten Sinfonia created a real accessibility to a performance which might otherwise have felt somewhat like another world.
Posted: 20 November 2020 Words: Wes Foster Photos: Mark Allan

Wrongly, I assumed something else of Shabaka Hutchings before watching this live, and the lack in using any of his more well known outfits (being the driving force through The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors, and Sons of Kemet) should've been telling. Instead, as he introduces, this is a recital of some of the pieces which have influenced him as a classical clarinetist. He joins Britten Sinfonia, a chamber orchestra from the East of England.

Shabaka himself doesnโ€™t appear until roughly halfway through the set - the Britten Sinfonia rendition of Appalachian Spring somewhat more of an introduction. In a much more flashy orange and gold garb, he stands out from the black worn by the orchestra members. Beginning with Stravinsky's 3 Pieces for Clarinet, he then powers into a piece of improvised playing before it comes to an end. Uniquely, the livestream cuts to an earlier prepared interview, allowing for Shabaka and the conductor Geoffrey Paterson to discuss the forms within the performance. As an absolute novice to this style (I am someone that would usually expect guitars and four or so figures on stage) there is a real accessibility to something which might otherwise feel somewhat like another world. 

For the final piece, both Britten Sinfonia and Shabaka Hutchings come together in a rendition of Clarinet Concertoagain a piece by Aaron Copland. This is one of the few performances where the first half informs the second - the nuances of the last part are much easier to pick up on after the various forms of the first. It is through this understanding that these small movements become more, with the piece following intonations by the individual musicians. Finding a meeting place between jazz and classical is not as easy as the formal elements might suggest - one bases itself on the a drive dictated by the energy created by the musicians, the other has tone and style put in more thoroughly by the composer, and the energy of the musician, in most cases, goes towards the meeting of this vision. 

Throughout the final piece the orchestra and Shabaka drop out in successions,  creating a talkative and active last piece, which dances between both.  The liveliness that comes from doing this builds further upon the beginnings made by the other two pieces, interweaving influences from both. Here, the Barbican alongside Britten Sinfonia and Shabaka Hutchings, have managed to put something together which feels like it pushes what can be done - but also the nature of the conventional audience.

To hear more from Shabaka Hutchings, click here.

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