On Jimmy Yancey
Stub *
Beat the Retreat
The Thistle of Scotland
Step by Step [UK première]
Mr Anderson’s Pavane
Horses of Instruction

Delta Saxophone Quartet *
Steve Martland Band

Late Night Cabaret

Greetje Bijma (vocals) & Louis Andriessen (piano)

It is now nine years since Louis Andriessen, Dutch composer, curated the second Meltdown festival. Since then Britain has had reported his ambitious operatic projects with Peter Greenaway – Rosa and, latterly, Writing to Vermeer, but have not had an opportunity to hear much of his music live, apart from Oliver Knussen’s Proms performance of Trilogy of the Last Day (August 1999). So all credit to the South Bank Centre and Amelia Freedman for bringing him over for a ten-concert festival stretching nearly two weeks entitled Passion.
The opening night was in two parts. First, perhaps Andriessen’s best-known British pupil, Steve Martland, brought his own band for a 100-minute romp through mainly his own music, but starting with a rather soft-grained version of Andriessen’s On Jimmy Yancey, notable from where I was sitting (right in front of Andriessen) for the composer’s constant conversation throughout. If composers can’t be bothered to sit quietly through their own music, why should they expect others to? Here the Steve Martland band was expanded to fit Andriessen’s American-influenced big-band requirements. The rest of the opening concert was devoted to Martland’s own works, and was basically a reprise of his own new album, Horses of Invention (Black Box BBM1033) minus Principia, Eternal Delight and Terminal but including a new work, Step by Step, receiving its UK première and, as yet, not recorded. Martland made a last-minute addition (from the disc) in the form of Mr Anderson’s Pavane.
Martland – articulate, passionate and avowedly anti-establishment, with his trade-mark T-shirt, jeans and sneakers– writes music of great verve and brilliance, utilising Andriessen’s trade-mark hocketing (the passing of music from one player to another) as well as almost rock-band instrumentation to create often fast and raucous works. But there is a marvellous inner subtlety: Martland – as eloquently displayed in this set – is at his best when reinventing the past in modern terms. A number of works have snatches of Purcell at their basis (Beating the Retreat was written for Purcell’s death tercentenary), while Mr Anderson’s Pavane by its very title looks to the past. It was originally written in memoriam of filmmaker Lindsay Anderson, but here Martland introduced it in tribute to his friend, the actress Katrin Cartlidge who died last month. Thistle of Scotland is developed from a Scottish folk tune and the new Step by Step played with ascending and descending scales.
For Horses of Instruction Martland left his band to it and one might have detected a more exact ensemble. Coming back, for Re-Mix, Martland had changed his T-shirt from the one which had emblazoned ’USA’ on his chest to one with a Red Cross red cross on it. Perhaps he realised that his parting comments about us not going to war against Iraq would have looked odd with a T-shirt stating the name of the most prevalent warmonger!
There was a buzzing speaker at the central sound-desk, which marred this otherwise enjoyable and invigorating concert. However I do wonder whether any amplification is really necessary for this music?Yes there has to be some for the electric and bass guitars, but all the other instruments save the violin (which in its amplified state sounded tinny) can certainly hold their own against amplified guitars.
An interval break of about twenty minutes separated the end of Steve Martland’s opener and the start of one of the most unusual and certainly un-catagorisable concerts I have ever had the pleasure to attend.
Billed as ’Late Night Cabaret’ this two-hander – with Andriessen at the piano accompanying Greetje Bijma – was quite like a cabaret, but with no established numbers and no set format. Indeed the description of Bijma as ’vocals’ hardly did her justice. She is definitely a complete ’performance artist’ and – although some words did seem to come from recognisable languages (the final piece, before the encore, where she came to sit on Andriessen’s piano stool included a paean to being “friends”) – it might have been more helpful to describe her talent as ’vocalise’.
The programme pointed out that there was no rehearsal and everything was improvised, but at the time I hadn’t read that. I was at first bemused, but soon utterly captivated. Platinum blond, short- haired Bijma, in her striking black dress, looks like a fragile porcelain doll with the delicacy of a Japanese lady but the unpredictability of a daddy-long-legs. She giggles as Andriessen whispers to her when taking a bow to set the parameters of the next improvisation and then switches into character. In the 45-minute display of bravura we got feisty and fun intimations of various recognisable characters and situations. She does a mean folk routine (unaccompanied) which sounded straight out of Tormis’s Estonian catalogue or something from Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, with its nasal timbre (or, alternatively it could have been the female equivalent of the Maori Haka!), while the Papagena singspiel take-off in something that could have been German (but I wasn’t sure) and the similarly spoken Japanese movie-narrative take-off were genuinely funny. She uses her arms and hands to weave patterns in the air, and transverses the whole stage, even hunting a chair and going behind the curtains at the back for great comic effect.
Meanwhile Andriessen at the piano (for all but the Estonian-cum-Haka routine) proves he is no mean pianist, able to conjure up many varieties of styles – from Russian romanticism to his own distinctive rhythmic pulsing.
Bizarre and wonderful at one and the same time, this may be one of those things that can only really work its magic once. It certainly did so for me on this occasion.


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