In Seven Days … Music for 18 Musicians

Adès/Rosner
In Seven Days – Piano Concerto with Moving Image [World premiere]
Reich
Music for 18 Musicians

Nicolas Hodges (piano) & Tal Rosner (video artist)

Synergy Vocals

London Sinfonietta
Thomas Adès [In Seven Days]


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 28 April, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

As part of “Ether 08”, a large and youthful audience packed this concert by the London Sinfonietta.

Thomas Adès. Photograh: Nigel LuckhurstThomas Adès took charge of the first outing of his In Seven Days. Described as a ‘Piano Concerto with Moving Image’, the 29- minute piece is also a video-ballet in seven continuous movements that evoke the Creation story in sound and vision. A sombre if translucent prelude depicts ‘Chaos-Light-Darkness’, before the entry of the piano for the animated ‘Separation of the waters into sea and sky’ and the intermezzo-like ‘Land-Grass-Trees’. The central slow movement, ‘Stars, Sun, Moon’, brings the most sustained and intense music, then an elaborate fugue (texturally-speaking) segues ‘Creatures of the Sea and Sky’ and ‘Creatures of the Land’ in a build-up to the final section, ‘Contemplation’. This alludes to earlier ideas from a tranquil perspective, albeit with a hint of the opening to suggest a sense of closure.

Nicolas HodgesEvocative without being merely descriptive, In Seven Days is an undeniably cohesive entity that ably but understatedly fulfils its intention. The piano-writing is expertly integrated into the ensemble, and with Nicolas Hodges amply exploiting the judicious range of timbral possibilities. That said, little of themusical content is distinctive or memorable in itself, nor does the overall variation process have the cumulative impact that its subject-matter leads one to expect. Similarly, Tal Rosner’s video designs are a pleasure to watch as they engage in various off-symmetrical formations over the six screens suspended high above the rear of the auditorium, without yet becoming more than a highly effective gloss on music that itself leaves (no doubt intentionally) a conceptual gap to be filled. Taken as the benchmark for what might follow, this has much to recommend it, but Adès and Rosner will need to raise their game, creatively-speaking, if the collaboration is to become more than a stylish novelty.

The second half was devoted to Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (1976), last given in London by the Sinfonietta as part of a memorable double-bill with Brian Ferneyhough’s Transit. For a work that lacked a performable score for its first two decades of existence, performance being the preserve of Steve Reich and Musicians, Music for 18 Musicians has since become something of a live favourite – understandable when it tempers the starkly minimalist processes of Reich’s previous ensemble pieces with the subtly variegated harmonic aspect of those that followed, but without the overtly extra-musical dimension that has intensified and yet also impeded his multimedia forays from more recent years.

The present account was a persuasive one – the Sinfonietta musicians assuming their allotted places within the overall scheme of things with evident conviction, and with no sense that such scrupulous preparation had undermined the individual expression that this piece obliquely and intriguingly makes possible. As especial advantage of performing it in the Royal Festival Hall is that full use can be made of the platform to arrange the ensemble according to Reich’s specifications; so enabling the audience to watch the unfolding performance as if onlookers on a ‘community’ of musicians engaged in a ritual that is as equable (if exacting!) for those participating as it is enjoyable for those listening. Moreover, sound and vision are integrated with a purpose such as video-art has not yet come close to emulating.


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