Rain Falling Up

Philip Hammond straps in against the gravitational pull of Brian Irvine and the Ulster Orchestra

Brian Irvine is not the sort of composer who likes to live in an ivory tower. He doesn’t necessarily sit around waiting for deep thoughts and profound inspirations. He’s a practical sort of guy who has made his career out of writing music and making music and teaching music, much to the benefit of his players, his pupils and his audiences.

Irvine's latest composition is in what I might term the 'cast of thousands' category and was impressively premiered at the Waterfront Hall on Saturday 20th March 2010.

Irvine is quite accustomed to dealing with disparate groups and he’s developed a quirky personal and compositional style to cope with the diverse performers with whom he so readily and expertly engages.

His rapport with the several hundred children and the good number of elderly singers tonight arranged in front of the Ulster Orchestra, quaintly bathed in colourful lighting, is palpable. As he steps on to the podium to conduct, Irvine gets a huge cheer from the performers even before conducting starts – well, I’m not sure about the orchestral players but they’re always a little reticent. It’s his energy, commitment and enthusiasm which eventually wins the day and which it is worth mentioning.

Rain Falling Up, a story written by John McIlduff, is about a smart young boy who has a few problems with gravity ( or 'gravaty' as the young singers endearingly sing) and he decides to invent a machine to turn it off. In a dream, he succeeds. But there’s unwelcome consequences and when it all gets too much he luckily wakes up and guess what? All is fine again. Sighs of relief all ‘round.

My one difficulty with the unfolding presentation is that, because of the ambient lighting, I can’t see the libretto so carefully printed in the programme with a background colour that renders reading an impossibility.

Too bad – but the naïveté of the libretto, the pictorialism of the music and Sharon Thompson’s narration – are all enhanced greatly by the utterly charming silhouette puppetry/visuals of Matthew Robbins. Who needs words when such pictures can tell the story anyway?

This is really a piece of total theatre which has an appeal for the moment. Perhaps the most amazing thing about what I am experiencing is that for almost an hour not one child, either in the audience or on stage, gets bored, stroppy, or acts in a way which is 'unsociable'. If proof were needed that music and the arts can expand the concentration span of the young then here it is.

Of course, we all know that anyway and Brian Irvine is a past master at successfully involving people of all ages with his attractive music and with his winning ways. But what an incredible amount of effort to put into a one-off event!

Philip Hammond