Kings Place: The Opening Festival

Written by: Richard Whitehouse

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Concerts 1-3, Kings Place Hall One, London

Endymion [Nancy Ruffer (flute), Melinda Maxwell (oboe), Mark Van Der Wiel (clarinet), Stephen Stirling (horn), Michael Dussek (piano), Krysia Osostowicz (violin) and Adrian Bradbury & Jane Salmon (cellos]

Sunday 5 October 2008

Concerts 97-100, Kings Place Hall Two, London

Gwilym Simcock (piano) with Cara Berridge (cello), Malcolm Cresse (double bass), Tim Garland (saxophone), Jim Hart (vibraphone), Stan Sulzmann (saxophone) & John Taylor (piano)


Not since the Barbican Centre opened its doors in 1982 has there been a London arts
development to rival Kings Place, central to the regeneration of the King’s Cross
district and which came about through the vision of businessman and music-lover Peter
Millican. Although the Dixon Jones-designed building is ostensibly about eco-friendly
office space (it needs to be, as the project is funded solely by private capital), the
two concert halls, free galleries and public spaces are no less state of the art.

Already, London Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment have moved their
respective administrations there, while the range of events planned through to Christmas
alone is of a breadth and variety to rival other arts centres in London. What better,
then, to inaugurate the new building than a five-day festival consisting of no less than
100 45-minute ‘taster’ recitals that between them afford an inclusive overview of the
Kings Place programme, and from which the opening and closing sequences (numbers 1-3 and 97-100) represent by no means the full extent of what could be heard.

Wednesday morning got going with three recitals given by Endymion in Hall One. Seating
420 people, this is clearly aimed at the instrumental and chamber-size undertakings such
as have long been the provision of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell
Room, as well as Wigmore Hall. Suffice to say it is hard to imagine Endymion, who for
many years has its London activities on the Purcell Room, willingly passing over
an opportunity to return (and often) to this new venue – given the warmth and clarity of
its acoustic (that one could hear the proverbial ‘pin drop’ was all too evident given
the hammering that periodically disrupted the first recital!), with its oak-veneer
(from a single 500-year-old German tree) and panelling that is adjustable
according to each performance).

The first recital rightly opened with a commission – Simon Holt’s lyrically intense
Disparate for oboe solo, plangently given by Melinda Maxwell, then proceeded to the
atypically whimsical Birthday Hocket by Jo Kondo, the characteristically capricious
Intonazione by Nicolo Castiglioni, and finally Bartók’s astringent yet heartfelt
clarinet trio Contrasts.

This was certainly the watchword for the following two
recitals. The second juxtaposed Ligeti’s Horn Trio – its Brahmsian allusions the more
provocative a quarter-century ago, but whose resourceful use of open-tunings and
polyrhythmic interplay was to have momentous consequences for the composer’s latter two
decades – with the Horn Quintet by Thomas Dunhill, an appealing piece if anachronistic
even for its date (1898) whose chief interest lies in the methodical opening set of
Variations and a finale in which the ‘theme’ returns to cap the work in no mean
splendour.

The third recital was also one where (relative) opposites met – York Bowen’s
effusive but finely integrated Piano Trio (after the ‘phantasie’ model as espoused by
William Cobbett) followed by Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony, in the transcription
for Pierrot Lunaire forces by Webern that arguably sets much of the work’s heady
contrapuntal discourse in more effective relief. The bravura performance rounded off an
excellent morning’s music-making.

Sunday evening concluded with four recitals in Hall Two. With its capacity for 220
people seated or 330 standing, this is designed as a more flexible option than its
larger companion – thus making it ideal for a range of performances from solo piano to
experimental ensemble (while those suitably inclined and with appropriate funds could
transform it into a superior karaoke venue). It was a more than fitting venue for the
four-part performance devised by Gwilym Simcock, whose appearance at this year’s BBC Proms amply confirmed him among the leading jazz pianists and composers of today.

The first recital consisted of a showcase by Neon – the trio featuring Simcock together
with Stan Sulzmann on saxes and Jim Hart on vibes, who performed a half-dozen numbers
consisting of original compositions and arrangements performed with the discipline and
spontaneity of players who feel comfortable in each other’s company.

A more unusual
concept came with the second recital – with Simcock being joined by the cellist Cara
Berridge (familiar to chamber-music devotees as one quarter of the Sacconi Quartet) in a sequence of the former’s compositions, where modal and chromatic elements find an
unforced and inventive accord (though the clear acoustic was not always kindest to the
upper register of Berridge’s instrument).

The third recital featured Acoustic Triangle – a trio consisting of Simcock along with the comparably versatile Tim Garland on saxes
and bassist Malcolm Cresse. They performed compositions by the former two musicians,
together with numbers by Kenny Wheeler and Stan Tracey in a set that demonstrated how
the current generation of jazzers is not only acknowledging but also taking up and furthering
the musical legacy of its predecessors.

The fourth recital was fittingly more of a
‘wind-down’ affair, though anyone expecting Simcock and fellow pianist John Taylor not
to rise to the challenge in a late-evening set of Improvisations was happily mistaken.

So, an ambitious end to a momentous first five days for Kings Place – and a festival
that was clearly enjoyed by all those present. Not the least aspect of this enjoyment
was the actual ambience: one in which punters and office-workers mixed freely in the
open spaces and dining areas with an outlook onto the canal area that has itself been
regenerated over the past few years. Of course, the future of such a complex can only
be assured by the patronage that it will receive. The present time being far from
auspicious, it beholds those who care about the arts scene in London to show their
support, so those yet to do so should head on down to Kings Place and enjoy its
attractions for themselves.


  • Kings Place is at 90 York Way, King’s Cross, London N1 9AG
  • Box office: 0844 264 0321
  • Kings Place

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