Thursday, 3 May 2007

Thursday - Plug III and IV

Jings. That's far too much music for one day. Three concerts, from five through to nine, with only twenty minutes between each one?!? I'm completely exhausted and I haven't played a note, goodness knows how the players who have been rehearsing since nine must feel.

So, all I can do at this slightly frazzled point is give a general impression of everything. The Ensemble Artundleistung concert was of a uniformly high standard, matching confident and individual composers to good players. Many of the composers were given quite difficult ensembles to work with - any ensemble with a tuba and a violin in it is going to present problems - but by and large things worked. Marcos Fernandez Barrero's Fanatasy for nine instruments sounded like it wanted to be orchestral, while Richard Greer's optimistic Into the Sky felt like a wind band. John De Simone was on home territory with a very Dutch piece called Drifter, while Richard Walker veered off into completely different territory with Ever Breath a Universe, a wash of colour, a bit like spectralism without the microtones. Alistair Caplin's Little of Me could have come across as muddy and pretentious or luminous and transcendent according to one's mood, while Kevan O'Reilly's 24 Years which concluded the concert seemed to draw particularly good things from his singers.

Next up, Thing with Dante's Inferno. Very, very promising at the start. CD playing, lights and staging set as the audience enter - good. Players kind of snuck on one by one at the start instead of making a grand entrance - good. All the instruments amplified - good. I'm very onside with what Thing are trying to; the collaborative approach to making a work, various sections devised or composed by particular individuals, no conductor, just particular players leading the ensemble from where they sat as needed. I think they should absolutely be supported in what they are trying to do here, a very necessary corrective to some of the by-now irrelevant ways of doing things which classical music is lumbered.

There was some good material here tonight. I'm not privy to who wrote what and which bits were devised, although knowing the people as I can to a certain extent guess. It was a lot to take in at one sitting. Some of it didn't hang together, and the CD of what we presume must have been the poem itself being read out in Italian which punctuated the piece got well tiresome after a while. Too many of the pieces seemed to be of the subtle and slow-moving type. Maybe the whole thing was a bit long and could have been edited down a bit.

Overall, much as I wanted to love this piece, there was something missing. Perhaps... the idea that a piece is collectively composed, devised and owned by all the players stops people from sticking their head above the parapet. I kind of wanted one of these stunning instrumentalist to step up and take a solo instead of hiding their light behind each other's bushels.

Or something. No matter what I or anybody else says, I hope they will press on with what they are trying to do. I kind of have the feeling this is a type of work which might take a year or ten to really get where it's going.

The Gareth Williams Symphonic Tradition; what can one say? Gareth is Gareth, completely at ease in his own perfect musical world, somewhere midway between caberet and concert hall. The phrase 'what's not to like' was made for this guy. And what a great team of players he assembled.

Finally the Plug Big Band. A fair few years ago now Bryan Allen conducted a brasswind piece of mine, and it didn't sound that great. I always suspected that was because didn't write it very well, and now I know that must be the case, because any band which Bryan stands in front of kicks! The combination of verve and discipline with which they tackled three equally extraordinary pieces by Graham Fitkin, John De Simone and Oliver Searle ended a long day on a big high.