1999 Symfo, 26 February 1999
The Royal Dutch Airforce Orchestra,
with Gary Chandler, Tony Sherman and Nurlaila Karim.
Concertgebouw, Haarlem, The Netherlands
By Bart Jan van der Vorst
The orchestra of the Royal Dutch Airforce is a classical wind-band, with instruments like clarinets, flutes, saxophones,
trumpets, trombones, baritones and horns, completed with a rhythm section with a guitar, bass guitar, drums, percussion
and keyboards. This 52-piece band already has quite a good reputation for its theatre shows often combining a light- and
dance show with music which one wouldn't expect to be played by a military orchestra: light classical music, pop and jazz.
This year they've started a very special project: Symfo 1999, which is a flashback to the Seventies when classical
influences got integrated in pop and rock music by bands like Queen, Yes, Camel, Jethro Tull etc. Besides the 52-piece
band the show stars three vocalists: Jadis singer Gary Chandler, Miss Saigon star Nurlaila Karim and earlier collaborate
Tony Sherman and three dancers/singers from the dance-act Touchdown.
The show promised to be something very special with old classics performed (almost acoustically) by a big orchestra,
enriched with a massive lightshow and many other show elements.
When I arrived at the Haarlem Concertgebouw I actually though I had made a wrong decision coming there, as the foyer
was filled with old crippled senior citizens (probably with a theatre season ticket) and shiny medalled war pensioners
(probably visiting their old orchestra). I was relieved when the orchestra started with Rick Wakeman's Journey, and
proved that they were there wrong, and after about 5 minutes in the show two ladies in their mid-eighties with front-row
tickets left the theatre with disapproving, sour looks on their faces. This was definitely the concert with the highest ever
average-age of the audience that I've ever seen.
The stage was a bit cramped because of the huge amount of space the orchestra needed. The dancers had a tiny walkway
in front of the orchestra, as well as one walkway between the musicians. I must say however that they coped extremely
well. At the right hand side of the stage there was a small scaffold on which cardboard signs with the songtitles were
placed. At the beginning of each song, one of the dancers Melise de Winter would come onstage to replace the signs, while
pulling funny faces at the audience.
The Overture of a part of Journey, which flew into Lloyd Webber's musical Jesus Christ Superstar. During J.C.
Superstar the six vocalists appeared one by one onstage, each singing part of the title-track.
After the Overture one of the dancers Peter Stoelhorst remained onstage to recite a poem, which was not in the program
book (so I don't know where it came from)
The poem was a perfect intro for the next song, the Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin, sung by Tony Sherman. This song was completely destroyed by the poor quality of the sound. This
was due to the amazing fact that the acoustics of the venue were too
good!! The trumpets, baritones, horns and drums were not amplified,
yet they almost drowned out all the other (amplified) instruments and
After Nights in White Satin Gary Chandler entered the stage to sing
the Procol Harum hit A Whiter Shade of Pale. This song was played
in a very strange arrangement (by Robert-Jan Stips, quite famous in
Dutch rock-land) which had the prominent Hammond solos of the song
moved all the way to the back, resulting in a much slower and
unfortunately also more boring version. I definitely prefer the original.
The next song was much better: Supertramp's Dreamer, sung by all
vocalists. An excellent arrangement (strangely enough by the very same
Stips) with perfect show-elements. The next song in the program
showed Bouree, from Jethro Tull, however they played that disco/funk
version of Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was such a
worldwide hit after the film 2001: A Space Oddysee. Personally I
*hate* that raped version of this classical piece, so I hadn't mind a bit
of Tull instead there.
The next song was much better again though. A bit of Dutch pride with
Earth and Fire's Storm and Thunder. Again, great show elements, as
Nurlaila Karim, wearing a huge silver dress, got lifted in the air while
singing. For the first time the disappointing lights showed some nice
effects, with white beams portraying the lighting.
With Nurlaila still up there dancers Allison Spalding and Peter
Stoelhorst appeared from under her dress to play a nice romantic
ballet, while the orchestra played a medley of one of the most
successful Dutch bands ever: Focus.
The rain-theme returned with a raincoated Gary Chandler singing ELO's Standing in the rain, which was very originally
cleared up halfway with a happy Mr Blue Sky. During Mr Blue Sky all 5 vocalists sat down in front of the stage, all singing
different parts. Very fun to watch and excellently arranged. This song was really one of the highlights of the show.
Naturally highlights are followed by disappointments, and indeed this show was no exception - The next song was from the
one singer I probably I loathe most: Stevie Wonder. Worst of all was that Tony Sherman's voice sounded almost like
The next song - or three songs actually - were much better: A
medley of The Who's rock-opera Tommy. A song you wouldn't
expect to be played by a big orchestra and a perfect closer for
the first set.
While Nurlaila portrayed The Acid Queen (see photo) the four
others sat like statues on chairs. Every time Nurlaila touched one
of them they'd come to life for a second. Again, nice acting and
good choreography, considering they were still on a 1-metre
When we returned from the intermission a tape had started
playing a very familiar bass-loop: the finale of Tubular Bells, by
Mike Oldfield. Rather than going back to our old position near
the stage, we decided to sit on the balcony, , as the sound was
much, much better up there.
After about 5 minutes, when everybody was back in the
auditorium a lonely flute player appeared aside the stage and
started playing the first melody of Tubular Bells. One by one the
musicians came back onstage. Each time a row was filled on the
stage they started playing along to the flutes. So first the flutes
and clarinets were added, next the saxophones, horns and
fagots, then the trumpets and baritones and last the percussion.
Each time a row was added the song got louder and louder,
perfectly. They played the big orchestra version of the song,
which can be found on the album Exposed. It was magical; a
whole lot better than last time I saw Mr Oldfield himself perform.
The only disappointment was that the Tubular Bells, played by
one of the percussionists, couldn't be heard anymore, as all other instruments played too loud.
The second set was a bit more paced, and at the same time a bit more straightforward. The second song played was a
very short, a capella version of Mark & Clark's Worn Down Piano, immediately followed by Alan Parsons Old and
Wise, which was terribly sung by Tony Sherman, but saved by a splendid saxophone solo.
The next highlight was a very original combination of Camel's Friendship
and the Queen hit Bicycle race. Allison and Melise played a dancer
(dancing to Friendship) and a cyclist (knocking Allison over with her
bike). An excellent piece of acting and a great teamwork of all musicians
singing the choruses.
Another highlight was the second Queen song: Who wants to live
forever. Played as it should be, by a large orchestra, and sung as a duet
between Tony and Nurlaila. Especially the latter sent me shivers down
my spine. Although the guitarist didn't sound quite like Brian May it was
still a tremendous performance, which kept the audience dead silent
during the instrumental finale.
The set closed with Damocles, Rik Elings' disco version of Beethoven's
9th (which was a big it in Holland in the early eighties) followed by Jimmy
Webb's McArthur Park: another great performance of Gary. (see
A massive standing ovation had the orchestra stay for an encore, the
mother of all mini-rock operas: Bohemian Rhapsody. Although it was
the third Queen song in the set, there couldn't have been a better way to
finish this concert. Sung by all five, with everybody an equal piece, this
was yet another highlight of the evening. The whole orchestra played
superb and even the guitarplayer coped well with Brian May's famous
I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with the whole concert. It was much than I had expected it to be. I was also
surprised about how well a singer Gary Chandler actually was, the music of Jadis never really bothered me at all, but
singing he surely can. Despite the poor soundquality the performance as a whole was excellent too! Although the first set
contained (in my opinion) a much better and braver song choice than the second, which was more of an all-time faves set.
For a broader audience so to speak. Unfortunately the audience wasn't much to write home about; the theatre was less
I think the show is still playing Belgium and Holland for the next few months, so check the list of dates to see if they play
anywhere near you. If you're open minded and not afraid to hear the occasional classical arrangements of songs,
accompanied by some dancing and even ballet, then you won't be disappointed.
Gary Chandler - Vocals, Guitar
Nurlaila Karim - Vocals
Tony Sherman - Vocals
Melise de Winter - Vocals, Backing Vocals, Dance
Allison Spalding - Vocals, Backing Vocals, Dance
Peter Stoelhorst - Vocals, Backing Vocals, Dance
The Royal Dutch Airforce Orchestra
Major Jos Pommer - Conductor
Matthew Dickens - Choreography
Journey (Rick Wakeman)
Jesus Christ Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice)
Nights in White Satin (Moody Blues)
Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum)
Storm and Thunder (Earth and Fire)
House of the King
Standing in the rain/Mr Blue sky (Electric Light Orchestra)
Village Ghetto Land (Stevie Wonder)
The Who's Tommy:
Listening to you
Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield)
Worn Down Piano (Mark and Clark Band)
Old and Wise (Alan Parsons Project)
Changing States (Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
Friendship (Camel) / Bicycle Race (Queen)
Burn down the mission (Elton John)
House for Sale (Lucifer)
Who Wants to Live Forever (Queen)
Damocles (Rik Elings)
Mc. Arthur Park (Jimmy Web)
Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
(All photos © Bart Jan van der Vorst)