Wouldn’t you know, Genesis begins with a viola solo. At least, Genesis the song conceived by keyboard player Shadé Joseph, vocalist Tim Faminu with Ayanna Witter-Johnson begins with a viola solo.
It’s one of eight pieces that Ayanna Witter-Johnson has helped put together for this evening’s Present. Curate. Collaborate. Innovate performance. Joseph and Faminu are two of the young writer/performers involved in the LSO’s Digital Technology Group, the others being Monty Hoffman-Jackson, Sam Hostettler, Victor Jaiah and Stephen Nsubuga
They have come up with an hour-long show that ranges from the hip-hop of Genesis, with its string backing adding a resolute edge, to a Bassey-esque belter in which Witter-Johnson swaps the cello she wields elsewhere for her expressive vocal cords. And in between, some more abstract soundscapes: one requires the four LSO string players to use a selection of extended techniques -ricocheting bows, glissando harmonics, tapping their instruments, undefined strumming – over some increasingly portentous electronics. Another puts more conventional demands on the players, not to mention on composer Sam Hostettler who, in order to synchronise players with computer and in the absence of a click track, suddenly finds himself conducting the LSO.
They get a couple of hours’ soundcheck to put the live musicians together with the battery of tech. As usual with this kind of thing, there’s an enormous amount of fiddling around, the balance between them gradually winched into place, so that those expert string players can be heard among the barrage of electronica, under Witter-Johnson’s supervision.
The LSO players sit patiently - it looks like patiently, anyway; they are often in recording studios, so they’ll be used to it. Others do discreet things on laptops and mixing desks. On the other hand, Faminu, fellow vocalist Nsubuga and Joseph can’t resist joking around. Particularly, the former who proves himself to be quite the entertainer with a mean Whitney Houston up his sleeve and a nice mock-diva voice with which to chide his or anyone’s audience for clapping on beats one and three. He gets to rap with Witter-Johnson on that old-fashioned-sounding nightclub song, and although it is she who gets to sing ‘I’m the star of the show ’ I have a feeling she won’t be the only one who can say that tonight.