The Long Rain (UK Premiere) – 12th July

The Long Rain (UK Premiere)

Music: Olga Neuwirth
Film: Michael Kreihsl

Klangforum Wien conducted by Sebastian Gottschick
Live electronics: Peter Böhm, Reimar Fochler and Christina Bauer

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 12 July, 2001
Venue: Almeida at King’s Cross, London

Those who heard the world premiere of Clinamen/Nodus in theLondon Symphony Orchestra’s ’Boulez 2000’ series will know that Olga Neuwirth is a composer worth listening out for. In what seems to be developing into a ’Fourth Viennese School’, the latest generation of Austrian composers is exhibiting a confident and uninhibited approach to mid-century modernism, with composers such as Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Luigi Nono influential at an aesthetic, if not necessarily musical level. Her LSO commission gave full reign to the diversity of the modern orchestra; the present work similarly embraced the potential of multi-media.

The Long Rain is one of the stories contained in Ray Bradbury’s collection The Illustrated Man (subject of a powerful if idiosyncratic film version, starring Rod Steiger, in 1969). Stranded after crash-landing on an unnamed planet, a four-man crew searches for a solar dome as shelter against the constant rain. Michael Kreihsl’s 45-minute film examines the emotions of the men as they trek through the hostile terrain – at first coming full-circle to their wrecked spacecraft, then arriving at a ruined church-like structure, only to find abandoned remnants of human habitation. The mounting intensity as lives are lost is paralleled by a growing sense of urgency in the pace of the film; flashbacks and jump-cuts intervening in ever closer succession as the single survivor nears his goal. Projection on three screens allows alternative perspectives to be shown simultaneously, while the frequent appearance of a (mystic?) trumpeter adds a metaphysical aspect to the journey.

Neuwirth’s score complements the multi-layered visuals in its spatial dimension. Four soloists and four groups are placed around the audience, live electronic treatment of the instruments relayed through loudspeakers which in part counterpoint the soundtrack. Numerous aural images and motifs recur according to the momentum generated by the film. A tendency for the music’s initial fluidity to solidify into more monumental textures is evident in the latter stages, though the cabaret-like tone when the dome is entered suggests an irony at the heart of the interpretation. The placing of rehearsal sequences, featuring Klangforum Wien, between the nine main ’scenes’, culminating in the bemused encounter of players and crewmember in the dome itself, compounds this. What this does, paradoxically, is to resolve what Stefan Drees’s programme-note calls the “unpleasant intensity” amassed as aural and visual elements incite each other.

The Long Rain is a thought-provoking study, demonstrating the possibilities of the audio-visual medium when employed as skilfully as here – not forgetting the contribution of Klangforum Wien and the success of the sound engineers in utilising an untried acoustic. London’s arts-scene needs further such ventures: at least one important facet of the future is here for the exploring.

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