Things that are blue, things that are white and things that are black [world premiere]
Secret Forest [UK premiere]
Schnee [selected movements]
Sarah Nicolls (piano & keyboards)
André de Ridder
Kathleya Afandor – Installation design
Allen Fogelsanger – Computer programming
Just Hanging Around
Kathleya Afanador – Director
Music Mouse Variations
Composed by Alex Cook & Daniel Harle
Ne Me Quitte Pas [musical excerpts]
Composed by Jordan Hunt
Howard Skempton Miniatures
London Sinfonietta Collective
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris
Reviewed: 3 June, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
In “Shadoworks”, the rigidity of the concert format was challenged by the London Sinfonietta Collective. The idea was to extend the artistic experience beyond the conventional and continue the experience outside the auditorium. This group of young artists and students created films, dance pieces and art installations to accompany the work of five composers, including one world premiere. A series of ‘Foyer spectacles’ punctuated the programme before, during and after the concert. “Canvas”, an installation featuring a large multi-coloured projection which reacted to movement, greeted the audience as it entered the hall. “Just Hanging Around” had groups of performers striking co-ordinated poses and was intended to challenge our ideas of performance space. More involved performance-pieces continued during the intervals, but within the hall, the etiquette and form of the conventional concert went largely unchallenged.
Described by its composer, Larry Goves, as a piano concerto, Things that are blue, things that are white and things that are black was written as part of the London Sinfonietta’s Blue Touchpaper scheme. The scheme commissions new music without conditions, allowing composers to essentially compose whatever they like. Goves has responded with a fine work for no fewer than three keyboards, solo string and wind instruments, and twenty violins. Sarah Nicolls moved between a conventional concert grand, an electric keyboard and a prepared piano, tucked within the unusual ensemble. Subtle use of electronic distortion, alternative tuning and amplification revealed Goves’s careful ear for instrumental colour with the large group of violins particularly imaginatively deployed. Things that are blue… falls into three distinct sections; the first is lamenting in tone with separate instruments (oboe, horn and viola) pursuing their own paths in contrast to the unified ensemble of violins and combination of electric and acoustic keyboards. The second is yet more subdued, with the pianist making the journey around the orchestra to the prepared piano and accompanying a series of accomplished animations by students of Kingston University which explore colour and shape. The final section is maybe less successful, with the much heavier textures dominated by the amplified keyboards. Sarah Nicolls and members of the London Sinfonietta delivered a fine performance of this often-beautiful music.
The world premiere of Dai Fujikura’s Double Bass Concerto was to have opened the concert, but injury prevented the soloist appearing. Fujikura’s 2008 work, Secret Forest, was instead given its first British performance. As the composer explained in his programme note, Secret Forest describes an idealised woodland free from the allergens and irritations that plague him in the forests venerated in the art of his native Japan. Wind instruments arranged around the hall held dialogue with an ensemble of nine strings on the platform. The pulsing strings alternate with the less-unified winds whose chattering figures recall the opening of The Rite of Spring, an impression bolstered by the long bassoon solo at the work’s conclusion which the composer likened to a solitary man walking among the trees. This is an endearingly descriptive work that uses the full space of the hall brilliantly.
Triplum, by Aldo Clementi (born 1925), followed and was accompanied by “Little Triangle Trees”, a film by Ni Wen described as “a dance animation set in the ancient woodland of Epping forest.” This brief work, composed in 1960, represents the now-octogenarian composer’s most aggressively modernist music with little variety in the unconnected phrases stamped out by an ensemble of flute, oboe and clarinet. The monochromatic film, featuring a dancing figure multiplying, replicated the look of old film stock well, but was ill co-ordinated with the music.
Ligeti’s Ramifications and music by Hans Abrahamsen concluded the concert proper. Ramifications is one of those remarkable works which physically draws its audience in and by the time its shimmering textures had worked their way into inaudibility, those listening were leaning forward to catch its every turn. The twelve symmetrically arranged string players gave a finely balanced account of this genuine classic.
The music of J. S. Bach gave rise to Abrahamsen’s Schnee, selected movement of which were given by a small ensemble. Abrahamsen’s own arrangements of canons by Bach led the composer to consider ideas of repetition and time. His stated aim of creating an “animated world of time in circulation” is interesting enough, and the (Morton) Feldmanesque seriousness of the concept was enlivened by some touches of humour – alternative approaches to playing the clarinet and a percussionist simply swishing pieces of paper across a table. But rather than mesmerisingly timeless, the endless rhythmically dense patters and loops grew steadily more irritating before bordering on the interminable. The performance by members of the London Sinfonietta was nothing less than concentrated and committed, but the music revealed nothing through its repetitions. The music was briefly enlivened by flashing, fleeting faces in Sion Fletcher’s video piece “Frequency/Faces”.
Interval amusements divided the London Sinfonietta’s performances. The first of these was Music Mouse Variations, in which Alex Cook and Daniel Harle produced pounding music from Laurie Spiegel’s Music Mouse program on an old Atari computer. This strangely nostalgic work would have provoked warm reminiscence from anyone familiar with the sounds of 1980s’ computer games. An extract from a longer dance piece entitled Ne Me Quitte Pas saw Jordan Hunt convulse while screwing-up sheets of manuscript paper to the accompaniment of plaintive string-quartet music.
Orchestrations of Howard Skempton’s pieces for accordion completed this experiment in concert programming, here performed in the foyer by Azalea, an ensemble dedicated to performing contemporary music and made up of students of the Royal Academy of Music. The accordion originals were given before each of the orchestrations and were easy, autumnal works. The informality of the foyer was a relief after the intensity of the darkened hall, but these delicate orchestral re-workings of Skempton’s miniatures weren’t helped by the noisy competition coming from the bar.