Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Musical surprises galore as this very talented Polish ensemble presents the familiar in an unfamiliar style and the unfamiliar in a way that gets us all humming along.
Philharmonic of Wit owes its origins to a popular Polish TV programme, the title of which (if Google translate is working properly) invites you to guess what tune is being played by the orchestra. Philharmonic of Wit takes classics from almost every musical genre, turns them upside down and inside out and presents them back in a wild, wacky, and at times witty seventy five minutes of entertainment. The brainchild of pianist and master of ceremonies Waldemar Malicki, it features an orchestra of around twenty musicians, covering brass, woodwind, strings and an impressive percussive section.
Under the capable baton of conductor Bernard Chmielarz and orchestrated by musical director Jacek Kęcik, this riot of sound gives us everything from Bach to Irish dance, to snatches of film classics right through to an innovative finale that somehow merged Beethoven’s Ninth with When The Saints Going Marching In which takes some doing when you think of the harmonics involved in both pieces.
But it wasn’t all instrumental. Appearing like rabbits out of the proverbial hat were operatic soprano Anita and her equally gifted tenor counterpart, Michael. That created a break in the musical frivolity allowing a very acceptable rendition of one of those pieces that everyone knows, can sing along to but can’t name. But if you’d guessed Nessun Dorma (Puccini, Turandot for you non-music buffs out there), you’d have been right. And with good reason, as we’re all exposed to far more classical music that we might think. How? Through the ubiquity of advertising. Puccini, Verdi, Bach, Bizet et alia knew how to write tunes that stand the test of time and create the right retail mood.
Philharmonic of Wit’s trademark is surprise, which helps us think about music in quite a different way. No more so than when a seemingly shy young violinist was ‘interviewed’ by our smooth MC centre stage and asked about her favourite style of music. Cue not so much a metamorphosis as an explosion from sweet player of violin sonatas into rock singer extraordinaire. Some voice! As they say in musical circles, rock is power, opera and classical are just expensive.
The music just keeps on coming. Polish folk, a range of other East European tunes, Turkish, Middle East, the list is almost endless. Make no mistake, behind the flamboyance, witty badinage and tomfoolery lies a group of extremely talented musicians and singers.
This is Philharmonic of Wit’s first time in Edinburgh. It won’t be their last either, judging from the size of the following they’ve created in the past three weeks. Their sort of quirky entertainment plays right into the Fringe sweet spot, so we’ve probably just seen the birth of another August-time institution.