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He’s the daddy ! : Colin Currie DJs at Saffron Hall (Part II)

This reviews Colin Currie Group’s all-Steve-Reich concert at Saffron Hall (Part II)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

27 April

This is Part II of a review of The Colin Currie Group’s all-Steve-Reich programme, with Synergy Vocals, at Saffron Hall on Sunday 26 April at 7.30 p.m.

The review is in two Parts : Part I is reviewed here

Music for 18 Musicians (19741976)

Impressionistically, let us start where (after a beautiful first half) we ended the night at Saffron Hall (@SaffronHallSW), with the huge feat that is Music for 18 Musicians, and which only commenced after a sacred silence :

This was music heard as it really should be, live, not as we might know it, say, from YouTube (@YouTube), Spotify®, our own collection of physical recordings, or from the Live In Concert programme, on week days on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3)…

Though orchestral concerts may still be their own type of monumental enterprise, which usually guarantee that we will hear, for example, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 more or less as we know it, those things will not bear comparison with what is outside the everyday the stuff of what is, say, uniquely best at Aldeburgh Festival (@aldeburghmusic) [e.g. Gerard McBurney's A Pierre Dream at The Maltings, Snape], in Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (@HCMFUK), or in a jazz-gig that is devastatingly in the moment**.

What had Colin Currie (@colincurrieperc), with Colin Currie Group (@ColinCurrieGp) and Synergy Vocals (@vocalsynergy) wanted to bring us in Music for 18 Musicians ? One cannot usefully summarize this work, but best feel for its over-arching structure, behind the sensation of pulses within pulses, patterns within patterns :

Probably, Reich predominantly does not wish us to be in wonder per se – as might seem to be what Michael Nyman’s** music expects of us or, as with that of Philip Glass**, to be mesmerized ? No, something else, here part of which is to do with, in purely visual terms, how the percussionists, as well as some of the singers and pianists, moved around the Saffron stage, and gave us sounds that cohered, coalesced, metamorphosed, and fragmented***.

As one example, how the playing of the large, bright-golden shakers (which were also shaped as if to resemble ice-cream cornets) was passed, baton style, to pianist Huw Watkins (@WatkinsHuw) : Watkins started shaking a second set in tandem with, but more quietly than, the percussionist whom he was relieving, and then the latter, between shakes, deftly dropped out, to be free to play another part, and which gave Watkins variety from the piano riff that he seemed to have been repeating.

Or likewise, on marimbas, the fact that someone else in the ensemble, who, on another of the concert grands, had been doubling up (with bass-textures), slipped into the pattern of first the right-hand pair of beaters of the person from whom she was taking over, and then both, so that he could walk around her and away, to his next role. Even more so, say, than when (in a move that, too, mimics dance in a larger-scale orchestral setting) an entry can be seen to have been given to the second desk of violins, but just so that the first desk can come in with the key entry, or counter-response, this appearance of instrumentalists in sympathy / synergy with each other was almost balletic : Seeing is hearing.

For words such as sympathetic (for co-resonating strings, etc.), concord, consonance and harmony are all, not without reason, integrated into the language of music and musicality : as was joyously noted, during this performance, When I lose faith in what humanity is, or exists for, moments of this kind tell me.

With any concert, of course, even if only through a video (where one cannot choose what to see), one can enhance one’s understanding of the sound that is being made (when, where, and how, and by what means), and can learn to view one’s way into what is being heard, e.g. which instrument / player is contributing a tone or effect. Just as, here, one could identify, from the movement of her lips, the high soprano (credited as Joanna Forbes L’Estrange) from the four seated and loosely microphoned singers all of whom, at times, came to resemble wordless angel-voices… (Or, from the distribution of the parts in other repertoire, isolate the singers with exquisite vocal-colour in Stile Antico, maybe, or The Sixteen.)

All was in keeping with the poetic formality of the lay-out of the stage (no doubt specified in the score (as since confirmed by buying the recording pictured)), with two ranks of sopranos looking at each other across a paired violinist and cellist, who faced twin clarinettists (on B flat and bass instruments). Far back, two twinned grand pianos, and forward of which, in the intervening space, several pairs of likewise twinned marimbas, a golden vibraphone centrally, and, behind it, two facing xylophones. All with feedback monitors, and with a sound engineer at the back of the auditorium, who later confirmed that, when he detects interference fringes, or the xylophone is played with attack near the end of the work, he can bring up the sound a little to give those things emphasis.

Adding or taking away layers, we saw the care with which Colin Currie curated the performance, clearly signalling each change of section (as, on a smaller scale and amongst nods and other gestures, we saw the principal clarinettist doing, by raising the bell of his instrument, seeming to mark the number of iterations) : it felt as though Currie oversaw it, and maybe had licence (from Reich or his score), to vary the emphasis of each section, given by its duration.

Afterwards, no wonder that those eighteen people linked hands : to us, they were linked in our hearts and souls already, and this was their triumph, that they had communicated something so special, and in all its fullness we were full of magic, and of admiration for Reich’s, and their, conception of this work.

Part I of the review (Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) and Quartet (2009)) is here


* Let alone one such as Jan Garbarek’s one-set Barbican Hall concert at the time of the Dresden album (2010 ?)…

** One has to suggest that there is little more than a superficial relationship between any of these actually quite different and differentiated composers, or, indeed, between most of those who are thought of as together as writing minimalist compositions.

*** Fragmentation fragmented, only by us, so that, in the repetitions (or near-repetitions), we could focus on what the cello contributed, or some other instrumental, or human, voice.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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