Sunday, 31 May 2015

Rob Gardner's Lamb of God, Birmingham Town Hall, 30 May 2015 - A review

30 May 2015 at Birmingham Town Hall, the British Saints Symphony Choir & Orchestra performed Rob Gardner's "Lamb of God", a musical account of Jesus Christ's last days. Having seen this production in Watford LDS Chapel in 2014, my hopes were high. Walking into the majestic theatre, it was a setting fitting of such a sacred event. All was left was to have a performance to match it.

Instead, the audience received a performance of such immeasurable quality, power and emotion that it fully warranted the standing ovation it earned at the conclusion by exceeding all expectations. The music was a wave of tender moments of tragedy to epic crescendos that would cause every hair to stand on end. Whether religiously inclined or not, this was a concert that carried something more than just polished performances. It drew you in. It made you feel like you sat on the fringe of Gethsemane and the edge of Calvary. It was as faithful an account of what happened to not only Christ but those who were present. It was a heart breaking and yet uplifting human account of an extraordinary event.

For Philip Siu and Megan Hodun, the Orchestra and Choir Directors respectively, it marks the culmination of a trilogy of performances that have continued to increase in quality with each recital. Accompanying them was Ally Siu, who took care of all the technical aspects of the show, an aspect that is often overlooked but was utterly flawless on the day. The ultimate accolades rest with them for daring to take on such an endeavour. To have the idea is one thing. To realise it on such a professional scale is an achievement beyond anyone's expectations. 

The orchestra was magnificent. If the entire performance had been instrumental, it still would have been an epic performance. The choir was also incredible. The harmony was glorious. As tragic as the account is, I didn't want it to end. It was a testament to them that I have seen choirs twice their number but never have I heard such collective outstanding vocals. Quality shone through like a dawn breaking beyond the horizon.

Picking out individual performances seems a little unfair, since all the performances were superb. However, Robin Dick's rendition of Peter was wonderful. The sheer power of his voice manifest the torment of the Saviour's chief disciple and Apostle, as he denied his Master three times. Naomi Smith gave a touching and tender performance as Mary, Mother of Jesus. It is important to remember that a mother was watching the torment of her first born son when this happened. Naomi Smith helped us feel that loving pain. No mean feat, even with the quality of the material. All the other soloists were excellent, as were the narrators too.

Jared Govier was given the unenviable task of representing Christ's betrayer, Judas Iscariot. His vocals demonstrated a man who was up to the assignment. He portrayed a man who, despite having sat at the feet of the Lord, had lost his way so easily in a way that you were devastated for his foolishness, yet disappointed in his wicked behaviour. It was a well struck balancing act that is crucial to the account. A beautiful rendition of Martha of Bethany was proffered by Gemma Hatch. Among all the powerful voices, hers came with a gentleness that reminded us of how loved the Lord Jesus Christ was, how he had touched lives in a way that we can't possibly begin to fathom.

Among an orchestra of exquisite quality, an honourable mention should go to Harriet Walker on the cello. The significance of her particular role being that she was representing the Redeemer. It is a highly sacred charge to be entrusted with and she enshrined it with the divine dignity it merited.

Also, I particularly enjoyed readings from Vanya Jones and Nicholas Bridgwater, who conveyed the words with heartfelt sentiment. It only served to enhance a top class concert.

I could run out of superlatives for this. It would be worth it. From the gentle opening to the epic encore, this was a world class show performed by, effectively, amateurs. They performed a concert that taught that one man can do something extraordinary. Their performance proved that a multitude can do something majestic too.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Privatisation Is Not The Enemy Of The NHS

There has been a lot said about the supposed privatisation of the National Health Service in the UK. It is a topic that can vex just about anyone who isn't fully informed about the positive effect the private sector can have with the NHS. Despite this, it has become a huge political football, with statistics being quoted in either direction to suit both arguments. There is a popular myth that this process started with the Coalition Government formed in 2010. It didn't. 

The fact is that the private sector has long been involved in NHS care. Typically, when units for specialist treatment cannot be justified economically, a private sector firm is paid to provide that care. Less than 10% of the NHS budget is spent on sending patients to private firms like BUPA. I somehow doubt that anyone would argue that this doesn't make good sense. Furthermore, private firms have the ability to specialise in these areas to the point that they are better than the public sector, providing better care.

I worked for a firm who undertook the practice of sponsoring nurses in a specialist field of care. Initially, such a practice was only adopted in England and Wales. Scotland took the moral high ground, stating that the NHS should be public sector only. Patients before profits, that was the mantra. Noble but, ultimately, it proved to be foolish. The particular area of care improved immeasurably in England and Wales, while it suffered in Scotland. It was because the number of patients involved did not warrant the investment. However, give it to a private firm, they can pool resources and then distribute them across numerous NHS trusts. Patients got better care, effectively at the hand of a private sector employee.

These private firms also don't make mega profits. They rely heavily on high turnover. Margins are incessantly squeezed by competitors and trusts. That is how the private sector work. They need to produce the highest quality, the best innovations and smoothest delivery, all for the lowest possible price. All qualities we want running through the veins of the NHS. Every penny saved in one place can be spent on care elsewhere. Prudence and progress are desirable qualities, yet hang a private sector label around their neck and it is the demon trying to eat our precious NHS alive.

Is private sector involvement flawless? No. There is no one who is so naive to think that. Yet it is not the enemy you think it is. It is an all too simplistic punching bag. Are people trying to make money out of the NHS? Yes, of course they are. Do you go and kick off at the guy in the High Street who is getting paid for trying to sign you up to a charity? Of course you don't. You appreciate that they have to make a living. Well, those private sector firms have to do the same. They employ numerous people. Those people pay taxes, all of which works its way back to the NHS.

Private sector firms or supposed privatisation of the NHS is not the enemy. The refusal to change the NHS is. As it stands, the NHS will slowly slide into destruction. Things need to change. Such as the nature of these things, that will come at a cost and cause pain to some. Those most likely to be affected are those all ready in the NHS. That is why a lot of them kick against it but we dare not criticise them. We should. We should not blindly support those who halt change in the NHS just because they work in it. Some of them are right, in that they do know a better way. Some, however, are caught between thinking about themselves first and not seeing the wood for trees. An open, honest debate is required about the NHS but it will never be effective until the NHS is no longer used as emotive, political chess piece. Sadly, we're a long way from that.