London 2012 Festival: BT River of Music, Europe Stage – Review

In the shadow of The National Gallery and under the watchful granite gaze of Admiral Nelson, last weekend on Saturday the 21st and Sunday the 22ndof July, Trafalgar Square played host to one of the stages of the most ambitious musical events of all time. As part of the London 2012 Festival, BT launched their innovative music festival, BT River of Music, aiming to bring together all the different cultural music genres from across all the nations competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The once-in-a-lifetime festival boasted an impressive six stages in various venues across London, each venue representing a different continent. Tickets to the festival were free and only available through Ticketmaster, but with only a limited number of tickets available for each stage, the event quickly ‘sold out’. Trafalgar Square housed one of the Europe Stages, which I managed to get exclusive access to on both days of the festival.

BT River of Music Logo

With well-known artists such as The Scissor Sisters lighting up The Americas stage and The Noisettes rocking the Africa stage, each venue bought its own unique style to the event. However, it was clear from the outset that this festival was not about promoting famous acts or a competition of ‘which continent had the best music’. This was about celebrating global diversity and individuality which defines the cultures and societies within these great nations, as they prepare to come together for the greatest show on earth.

The Saturday 21st at the Europe Stage in the impossibly clean pre-Olympic Trafalgar Square, saw bands such as country/soul delights ‘Phantom Limb’ from Bristol, England, and huge karaoke-style choir The Big Gay Sing. However, the real highlight for me was the first act, ‘The Brazz Brothers and Sisters’ a huge collaborative act of talented Baltic and Eastern European jazz musicians. With musicians ranging from Trumpeters and Saxophonists to Trombonists, and varying in European nationalities from Norwegian, Swedish, Lithuanian, Estonian and Icelandic, the result was the smoothest and culturally-rich jazz ever heard.

The other European Stage located at Somerset House on The Strand, played host to Birmingham-born headline act Fyfe Dangerfield, who wooed the audience with his beautiful lyrics and sultry voice. The Saturday was also a good day for The Americas Stage at the Tower of London, which exploded with world-wide mega band The Scissor Sisters as their headline act.

Tom Owen, 19, a fellow festival-goer says of the Saturday, “I really enjoyed today, the weather has been surprisingly great and the atmosphere has been electric. I’ve discovered music here that I never would’ve normally listened to – and I love it! I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store. Not bad for a free festival!”

The Brazz Brothers and Sisters

The real highlight of the Trafalgar Square Europe Stage was undoubtedly the Sunday. With Belgian-Colombian samba band La Chiva Gantiva getting nearly every audience member on their feet and clapping along, and the beautiful Nerina Pallot charming all with her soft voice and cute folksy rock, the day was not short of entertainment. However, the true spotlight-stealer of arguably the entire festival was Sunday’s headline act, Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi.

As the Sunday sun began to set, casting all of London in a summery golden glow, Einaudi entered the stage in an uproar of applause. Trafalgar Square was now bursting at full capacity, with people lining the great fountains, crowding around the Olympic countdown clock and gathered upon the steps of The National Gallery. As soon as his fingers touched those ivory keys, the crowd instantly fell silent.  His opening notes echoed across the hushed Square, reverberating off the sun-lit building and across the ears of hundreds of moved spectators. London and life continued around this pocket of musical spirituality, the sounds of the busy rush hour complete with sirens and blaring horns, not ruining this peaceful music, but instead bringing this sense of beautiful juxtaposition to the sound. Here we were in the absolute centre of an intolerably busy, panic-preparing pre-Olympic London, completely still and at peace, lost in the delicate music of this great man, moved to a world completely beyond the one in which we were now stood.

Einaudi’s set involved not only his piano expertise, but an entire orchestra of violins, cellos and some of the most impressive and emotive tambourine playing known to man. The set was an overwhelmingly moving exploration of the senses, with many people standing with their eyes closed, entirely absorbed within the music. With a sweet “We bought you the sun from Italy!” Einaudi’s set moved on from his minimalist, classical and well-known pieces and progressed into his more alternative work, fully utilising his talented orchestra. The only piece with a vocalist was one of Einaudi’s most famous pieces ‘Nuvole Bianche’ with the incredible Italian singer Alessia Tondo singing the original Italian lyrics. It was incredible that even though the majority of the audience did not understand what she was singing, just the passion and delicacy on her great voice was enough for us all to be moved. With a great applause, she left the stage, and the music began to take a turn.  The notes of the bass drum echoed across the square, people began to get to their feet as the tempo increased. Dusk slowly began to settle around a captivated audience, as the drum beats pounded in rhythm with the hearts of the stunned onlookers, and the orchestra exploded in symphony. Then, as the union jacks at the top of the sunset-lit buildings slowly waved a salute in the summer breeze, and a solitary aeroplane streaked its way across the cloudless sky, the tempo began to decrease again, and Einaudi’s closing notes marked the end of the BT River of Music Festival, and the start of something quite incredible- London’s once in a lifetime chance at hosting the greatest show on earth.

Alessia Tondo On The Big Screens With The Sunlit Buildings Behind

Overall, The BT River of Music Festival was an ambitious and successful venture, expertly creating that sense of cultural unity yet individuality which the nation will be celebrating in the coming summer months, showing the host city in her greatest light, as a highly polished and welcoming destination. If all of this summer’s events go as smoothly as this, then we are most definitely in for the greatest year of our lives.

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