Concert Review

Roots - Classical Fusions: Earth Beat - Heart Beat. LPO/Metzmacher & Evelyn Glennie; Amina Alaoui and Huelgas Ensemble/Paul van Nevel; Edakotu Thirayatta Kalasamithi. Royal Festival Hall 4 March 2000.

This was a great day out for a multitude of people who thronged the RFH foyers from 10.30 in the morning, migrating to the hall itself at 6 for a four-part concert which lasted till10 p.m.

I joined this cross-over day in time to see the organiser, Andrew Peggie, rehearsing and premièring his Beat Roots, a community piece for three groups of percussion and audience clapping, fronted by Evelyn Glennie. The notion of the day was to explore 'a well-spring of rhythmic energy', but the populace was a bit shy of joining in fully, so the composer/conductor had to encourage the throng around the bar to participate and mention that it is a good idea to watch the beat! After this, there was tap-dancing and a performance of Ligeti's Poeme Symphonique for 100 metronomes presented by schoolchildren, its aural subtleties inevitably lost in the surrounding hubbub.

Edakotu Thirayatta Kalasamithi come from a village in Malabar and demonstrated their ritual dances in elaborate costumes. Female impersonators in fantastic head-dresses, which would be a wow at Ascot, where ladies compete in hats larger and more extravagant than their neighbours, enacted ceremonially scenes depicting the childhood of a son of Shiva. Their musicians showed us that a few drummers can easily drown out a brazen shawm, a theme to which I shall return immediately.

After the LPO under Ingo Metzmacher had began their contribution with a lithe performance of Tippett's Ritual Dances, which has a secure concert life apart from the Midsummer Marriage opera, we heard Evelyn Glennie in the first of two percussion concertos. She so dominated the orchestra throughout that long cadenzas/drum-kit breaks were redundant in the circumstances. Dave Heath's African Rave for marimba and the NYO of Scotland began with thunder and water dripping through perforated plastic buckets, and we enjoyed hearing the wind players whistling like birds. His second movement, Manhattan Rave showed Evelyn's prowess on a jazz drumkit. In Askell Masson's concerto, based on self-imposed limits of six notes and a 14-beat rhythmic template, she demonstrated (as Nielsen had before) how successfully a single snare drum could subvert the efforts of a whole symphony orchestra. Both worth hearing; neither a masterpiece. Intelligent planning led to a climactic conclusion of the evening with Ravel's Bolero, in which the obsessive repetitiveness of a two-bar snare drum figure, with deliberate reduction of the usual musical parameters down to basics, gave us one of the most popular pieces in the orchestral canon.

In the middle of all that, a set of unaccompanied 13th C. Arabo-Andalucian songs and pieces from the Las Huelgas Codex offered an incongruous (for some) oasis of peace and quiet, which held most of a full RFH audience attentive to music unknown to nearly everyone there. Amina Alaoui has a smooth voice and negotiated, without fuss or overt projection for a large auditorium, long complex melismatic meditations, and the singers and players of the little Huelgas Ensemble gave us the flavour of pre-renaissance ars antiqua.

Taken as a whole, this was a great day and, for those who stood the course and hadn't taken a break in the bar, a vindication of the Roots - Classical Fusions aspiration to explore music of different continents, cultures and centuries in the hope that what might seem to be incompatibly different might resonate potently.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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