Saturday and Sunday saw a whole new set of compositions, ideas and musicians gracing the National Concert Hall with their experimental musical stylings, and of course the GoldenPlec Classical team were there to catch the action.
Icebreaker don’t exactly draw the usual crowd to the National Concert Hall: more so what you would expect to see in the Google offices – hipster scarves, polka dots and thick-rimmed glasses amidst the usual specklings of grey hair and dinner jackets. In a change to the advertised programme, the evening opened with Terry Riley’s In C. The intuitive performance sees an ebb and flow between the musicians that is missing from most versions, uniting each of the cells into a complete concept despite the unique instrumentation combining electronic, electric string and woodwind elements.
Unlike the usual minimalist Kraftwerk setup, the stage layout for Kraftwerk Uncovered: A Future Past involves thirteen musicians, over twenty instruments and a host of electronic equipment. Intended as a comment on the roots of electronica and the future they predicted that was never to be, the piece combines J. Peter Schwalm’s orchestrated reworking of Kraftwerk’s music from 1973-’81 with a cold, industrial and harsh film by Sophie Clements and Toby Cornish. While staying true to Kraftwerk’s pulsating sound and themes from their music, Schwalm brings it into the twenty-first century using up-to-date technology from processing to electric violin and cello, plus an EWI adding to the orchestral elements of the music. This manipulation of old and new methods leads to a new soundscape, residing somewhere between the expectations of the past and our present: an interesting challenge to where we are and could be. – C. Graham.
Crash Ensemble: Schnee
Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee has obtained a cult status among youngish composers. Although it could merely be in vogue, it seems as if this work could be on its way to becoming a modern classic.
The opening portion of the work, at least, is deserving of this accolade. At the outset, an extremely high harmonic in the violin (producing almost no pitch, just a brushing sound) accompanies a threadbare piano line, and this goes on for a very long time. There is something unexplainable about this material that draws you in, and makes you wish it would never move on to something different. Although the piece dips into intensity for a long stretch in the middle, it is undoubtedly a work of genius. One of the most wonderful things about it is that as you listen, you are left feeling that Schnee is somehow dangling its secrets right in front of your nose, but just out of view.
The piece consists of ten canons and three intermezzi. The intermezzi are an ingenious feat of composition: they are simply made up of the ensemble tuning up (to microtonal tunings). Abrahamsen incorporates this practical necessity into the fabric of the piece so that tuning becomes a special moment in the work, rather than an annoying break between movements. Crash Ensemble perform the work with precision and understatement, and the effect is mesmerising. Kate Ellis deserves a special mention for her beautiful sound in the intermezzi. – A. Brooks.
Lonely Child with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Surprising as it is to see Michael Gordon’s Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony opening the concert, it is far from the only way the symphony is turned on its head. Rather than relying on shock factor, Gordon has contemporized Beethoven’s work, realising its potential as the rock and roll of its day. While keeping within the symphonic idiom, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra is being pushed from the start to adapt their playing style and preconceptions of what is expected with Beethoven. Although it is refreshing to see a composer disregard the status of the composer as “untouchable master”, more refreshing still is the open expression coming from the orchestra and their conductor, Nicholas Cleobury. Through slides, dense textures and added percussion—including a snare drum, just to reinforce the rock element—Gordon breathes new life and understanding into a work that has been gathering dust for too long under the pretence of respect.
Following such a grand opening, Vivier’s Lonely Child, though sharing the concert’s title, has little chance of dominating the evening. Clever use of percussion for echoing beats and soloist Sylvia O’Brien’s handling of the score are commendable, but it is somewhat lost between two mammoths. Gerald Barry’s Chevaux-de-frise is a wall of sound from start to finish, often disconnected from itself and a challenge to the audience (not to mention performers), Barry’s work will leave our ears ringing for days. A workout for all involved, some performers seeming thrilled and others lost along the way, the Barry is enjoyable only insofar as a spin class or marathon can be enjoyed. – C. Graham.