Review: Symphonic Sessions

Simon Hale dines out on the latest serving from Hockley Social Club & the CBSO.

A festive fusion of songs and chamber classics came with a sultry French twist in a cabaret-style setting in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s latest neighbourhood collaboration.

The second in its Symphonic Sessions partnership series with street-food venue, Hockley Social Club, attracted a capacity audience to the former warehouse space which had attractive ceiling drapes and sparkling string lighting as well as intimate table seating around a raised performance stage.

Exuding Parisian chic in her tight leather skirt and red top, Belgian jazz singer Gabrielle Ducomble entertained guests at the all-ticket event to songs by the great French chanteuse Edith Piaf, supported by a quartet from the CBSO.
Ducomble movingly captured the themes of love, loss and sorrow running through the lyrics, which delivered added resonance in these pandemic times.

The singer opened with the lesser known Je m’en fous pas mal (I really don’t care) but went on to bring a huge cheer with the famous love song La Vie en rose (Life is Pink). She continued after the evening’s musical interval with Les Trois Cloches (The Three Bells), about the three main events in life, before slipping in the Christmas classic Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, and finishing with Piaf’s catchy yearning for her native Paris, Padam, padam…

In a bravura performance it was particularly thrilling to hear Ducomble roll her ‘Rs’ in authentic Piaf fashion. It was just disappointing that the programme did not include more songs for us to enjoy more of her excellent vibrato.

Vibrato, colour and flair were also there in Colette Overdijk’s violin playing as she introduced the evening and her fellow members of the CBSO quartet. Between them they played a series of charming musical shorts (no more than six minutes each) that were interspersed with the songs.

Overdijk joined clarinettist Oliver Janes in a brightly contrasting jazz melody, Jeu, by Darius Milhaud, before giving a beautiful rendition of Lilli Boulanger’s Nocturne with pianist James Keefe. A melodically tranquil playing of Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie No 1 on piano solo preceded some jaunty Benny Goodman-inspired jazz on clarinet and Julian Atkinson’s double bass before the break.

The quartet moved musically on post-interval from France to further afield. They began with the popular theme from the film Amelie and a small work for clarinet and piano by Claude Debussy before playing George Gershwin’s Walking the Dog from the Hollywood movie Shall We Dance, and finally Three Dances from The Soldier’s Tale by the Russian-born Igor Stravinsky, with its infectious contrasting rhythms.

Delicious street food was served up by Hockley Social Club residents Buddha Belly (Thai-based), Low ‘n’ Slow (Mexican) before the live music began, with Confection also offering desserts at half-time, while the bar chose the occasion to launch a new French-style cocktail, Toulouse-Lautrec, which the menu said contained St Germain, lemon juice, and elderflower topped with Prosecco.

Judging by the attendance and sustained applause at the end of the evening, Symphonic Sessions looks like a venture with a future. Disappointing though were the food queues and waiting time at the bar – both too long – and the unreserved seating that can leave you having to share a table with another party at the back. Introduce table reservations and a waiter service and you really would have the perfect cabaret experience.

The City of Birmingham Choir is to mark its centenary year with a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with the support of the CBSO in Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Friday, December 10th. For tickets call 0121 780 3333 or book online at