Concert Review

Almeida Opera & Hoxton New Music Days
Per NØRGÅRD/ Islington Music Centre/ Elysian Singers/ Composers Ensemble/Richard Baker, Hoxton Hall, 8 July.
John Luther ADAMS Earth and the Great Weather The Almeida Theatre, 9 July


The day at Hoxton Hall was variably successful. It was built around the work of Per Nørgård and his preoccupation with the Swiss 'outsider artist' Adolf Wolfi, who created remarkable graphic work whilst living his latter years in the Berne asylum. Hoxton Hall itself has proved to be a relaxing, friendly environment, good for meeting and talking, and attracting gratifying numbers of people, with many of London's new music fraternity and such as Alfred Brendel amongst the audiences.

A lecture discussion chaired by Peter Paul Nash gave us a good opportunity to encounter Nørgård's open, friendly manner and to begin to get an understanding of his fruitful development of 'a well of compositional language', notably an 'infinity series' technique. That discovery has informed a great deal of his later music, and serves Nørgård (b. 1932) to combine the mathematical with the inspirational and imaginative. He rejected Nordic severity and 12-tone serialsim, and discussed too his fascination with the phenomena of 'interference', which had also became important to him. The event was however rushed and inhibited by strict clock-watching, and the time slot was too short to allow Nørgård to expand his ideas as he would have wished. (We were recommended by Peter Paul Nash to follow it up in a book published by Scola Press.)

The next session, based upon Nørgård 's Drumbook and Choirbook was an impressive demonstration of what can be achieved in a children's workshop with just one day's work. Nørgård had been impressed in Bali with the co-operative music making involving highly skilled adult percussionists with small children playing their part in the same ensemble. Richard Benjafield achieved wonders in building up complex patterns, which were demonstrated in a continuous choreographed sequence on and off the stage.

A prosaic lecture by Roger Cardinal about Wolfli's art work (which included indecipherable 'music', took up a lot of time which would far better have been given to Nørgård himself, to explain the role of this 'artist, composer, scribe, mythmaker supreme' in his own musical thinking and compositions.

The evening concert gave us some chips off the Nørgård block - four short choral pieces given by the Elysian Singers, conducted by Sam Laughton, to whet our appetite for his 'opera of sorts' to be given at the Almeida Theatre. I found the rest of the programme less satisfying, and their linkage with Wolfli tenuous. Terry Riley's over-long and seemingly inappropriately jolly Wolfli Portraits were influenced ostensibly by his drawings, and Rihm's Wolfli Liederbuch, based upon his writings, took the easy path of 'mad song' compositions over the many years past, with a tortured, agonised protagonist (Richard Jackson, a past master at this sort of charactierisation - q.v. Jacob Lenz one of the triumphs of the earlier Almeida Festival), ending up down on the floor, scribbling manically a 'Wolfli' picture; neither of these linked with the highly controlled and meticulously crafted work itself which we had been shown earlier.

I do not feel qualified to review Earth and the Great Weather by John Luther Adams, save to report that this is a unique musico-theatrical creation which deserves to be seen, despite some longuers in its 70 minutes. It celebrates Eskimo life in Arctic, where the composer has lived for many years. There are natural sounds recorded in Alaska, pieces for strings recorded with digital delay and impressive drumming pieces for four percussionists. Four actor/singers of Synergy intone texts, sing a little and clamber awkwardly over stones which cover the stage. Peter Mumford's design, lighting and direction was impeccable and raised this production to a high artistic level, even if it cannot be to everybody's taste.

Peter Grahame Woolf

The British premiere of Nørgård 's Nuit des Hommes will be given at The Almeida Theatre 12, 13 & 15 July. An excellent introduction to his sound world and earlier development of the 'infinity series' is to be had in the Chandos CD of the first two symphonies; played by the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Leif Segerstram. Sinfonia austera comes clearly from the Sibelius/Nordic tradition and Symphony No.2, first heard in 1970, is the first to be based upon the infinite series which is reminiscent of (indeed anticipated) the chaos theory 'fractals', which have featured in new music towards the end of the century

CHAN 9450 (52.22)

. The recording of Earth and The Great Weather - on New World 80459-2 - offers an evocative aural experience, without the possible distraction of a scenic presentation

Peter Grahame Woolf


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