Monday, 14 March 2011

Getting some culcha

Hello all? I trust you had a weird and wonderful weekend. I had a very cultural one: a concert of modern classical music, and a trip to see Hamlet. Stoke City beat West Ham in the FA Cup quarter-finals (it was like watching Brazil) and the only wrinkle was Wales beating Ireland in the rugby.

The concert was mostly very good. I'd accidentally managed to get one of the best seats available (on the aisle, front row of the first circle near the centre), so I could see and hear perfectly and had plenty of legroom. The crowd was very mixed: lots of old folk who come to anything classical, and huge groups of music students and other young trendies who see Reich et al. as the originators of ambient, techno and pretty much anything that's interesting in pop. 

On the bill was Thomas Adès's In Seven Days, and Steve Reich's 1970s classic Music for 18 Musicians. In Seven Days sounded absolutely lovely, and I'll definitely buy it when it's available on CD, but I wasn't convinced by it as a cutting-edge piece by one of the world's greatest living composers. It took in a lot of Stravinsky and Debussy (excellent), but it wasn't hugely individual. I also thought that performing it with a massive screen showing mostly abstract images was a mistake. The piece was meant to be about the creation of the world, but once you've got what's essentially a huge TV, the music becomes the accompaniment to the images. As the images were mostly of the screen-saver variety (no marks, I'm afraid, to film-maker Tal Rosner), they diverted my attention from the music without making any profound claims on my intellect. It's possible that the music would have felt a little more weighty without the images.

The Steve Reich was just plain amazing though. It's a long piece in which changes in rhythm and melody sneak in slowly and subtly. On stage were four grand pianos (sometimes played by two people at a time), several glockenspiels and marimbas, four amplified wordless singers, a cellist, a violinist and two clarinettists, plus shakers and various bits. The players move around from instrument to instrument - singer to piano, pianist to marimba - as the piece dictates. At one point, three people were playing the same marimba at huge speed. So it's a performance piece as well as an exercise in pure minimalism, and the players thoroughly deserved their standing ovation.

I posted the opening the other day: here's the thrilling sixth section.

The other trip was to see Hamlet, which I've never seen on stage, by Northern Broadsides. The setting was 1940s: not sure why, but the costumes were utterly ravishing. Wish I had a range of 40s suits…

I was left in two minds about this. Most of it was excellent, but there were problems with pacing and acting style. Hamlet himself was a little too shouty, and there wasn't much light and shade in the last acts, so it felt sometimes like a cruder revenge tragedy than it really is. I did enjoy it, but did feel like they didn't trust us enough to take it more slowly.

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