Under the shadow of the magnificent Lovell telescope, as night begins to fall, Hannah Peel and Paraorchestra take to the stage, and Bluedot is officially up and running. Peel, of course, is a sonic powerhouse – an electronic solo artist, eminent composer, multi-instrumentalist and orchestral arranger par excellence. Paraorchestra is the world’s only large-scale virtuoso ensemble of professional disabled and non-disabled musicians, led by conductor Charles Hazlewood – their previous work includes beautiful reworks of pieces by the likes of Kraftwerk and Philip Glass. Together, they make quite the pairing.
Based primarily on their recent ‘The Unfolding’ album – an exploration of sound about “who we are, where we came from, and who we could all be” – tonight’s performance is a magical and uplifting experience right from the off. Vocalist Victoria Oruwari fronts up, her remarkable keening voice seemingly drawn from some celestial plane. Peel stands centre-stage, overseeing proceedings, twiddling and tweaking. Conducting, Hazlewood is his usual animated self – his movements both jerky and graceful, arms flailing around like electrified tentacles.
There are poignant moments aplenty. ‘Part Cloud’ is a gorgeous and gentle evocation. And Peel’s intimate music box interpretations of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ and Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ are beguilingly otherworldly but utterly sublime, like enchanting fairy tales. Dressed in gold and silver, she cuts a striking figure as she sings and winds up the box, its resonant twinkly sounds emanating across the field.
The orchestra is majestic – deep, sonorous cello, shrill flute and urgent strings combine to mesmeric effect, interspersed with big beats, spacey plink-plonk and atmospheric synths. When in full flow, they really get their groove on. It’s hugely exhilarating. Close your eyes, and for a moment you could be floating on eddies. Proper goosebumps territory.
We’re also treated to ‘Emergence In Nature’ from Peel’s lauded ‘Fir Waves’ album, Orbital-esque techno that just makes you want to kick off your shoes and make like you’re in a dance tent. It’s potent stuff – a nearby couple are cavorting on the ground, getting it on. Such is the power of Hannah Peel. She introduces the orchestra at the end, beaming. Bright lights twinkle all around, punctuating the darkness, somehow strangely transcendent.
“This feels bigger than the sum of its parts,” says Peel. She’s not wrong.
Tickets for Bluedot 2023 are on sale now at www.discoverthebluedot.com/