It was a beautiful clear night as the crowd assembled at the stunning ancient Roman theatre in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, to watch Katatonia play their The Great Cold Distance album in full with the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra – and what a stunning night it turned out to be!
Firstly, the orchestra took to the stage and were greeted by a roar of cheers from the crowd (I particularly liked the trumpeters in the back giving the ‘rock on’ sign and thrusting their trumpets in the air!) and then conductor Levon Manyukan, and finally Katatonia arrived onstage, and the excitement practically reached fever pitch as they took their places onstage in front of the orchestra. It was nice to see how humbled the five-piece was at getting the opportunity to play with an orchestra and it really reflected in their performance, which was a joy to watch as a result.
Hearing the songs from The Great Cold Distance (which was celebrating its tenth anniversary since its release) with an orchestral twist was like a dream come true, with many of them translating fantastically into the new format. An early highlight had to be My Twin, which had a lot of extra bite thanks to the lush orchestration which complemented the song perfectly, but one of the strongest tracks of the orchestral set was The Itch. The song, which also had its live premiere, had an extra sparkle that it lacked on the album and it was a spine-tingling rendition that really hit hard in the best possible way.
However, at times it didn’t quite feel like the orchestra were being used to their full potential. For the most part, they tended to serve as the ‘backing music’ and whilst there’s no doubting it was amazing to have an added orchestral edge to the music, it would have been nicer if a few more lead parts had been given to the orchestra rather than being kept with Katatonia – for example, the ending of In The White saw the orchestra come into their own with it featuring just plucked violin strings and the grand piano, and it was a stunning way to close the track, so it would have been nice to have more moments like that during this potentially once-in-a-lifetime show.
After a brief intermission so that Katatonia could no-doubt catch their breath from the jaw-dropping performance, the band returned to the stage to perform a ‘best of’ set and for me personally, it felt like a perfect mix of songs because it pretty much featured all of my personal favourites of theirs!
Opening with a new song, Last Song Before The Fade, from their latest album The Fall Of Hearts, frontman Jonas remarked that the stage felt somewhat empty without the orchestra, and whilst it did look a little sparse, they still filled the theatre with their sound – and proved they meant business with a powerful opening performance. The second set also featured plenty of old songs as well, and hearing a revamped arrangement of Teargas was one of the high points, but it was the emotive and heartfelt performance of The Racing Heart that really stood head and shoulders above the other songs. The sheer emotion and passion dripping from the song was something to behold, and it was such a joy to witness it!
All in all, what can I say about the show as a whole? Well, my initial thought upon leaving the ampitheatre was that I had no words to describe how incredible the night was – and several days on, I still feel this to be a fair description! This was a rare and special treat, and it was a privilege to have been a part of it. Now…bring on the London show in a month’s time!