Pretty epic weekend

Posted by jill on May 9, 2011

Haven’t had a weekend like this in a while. It started on Thursday, with Chilly Gonzales at Koko, possibly his biggest headlining show in the UK for a while. The trouble with the growing popularity of Chilly Gonzales is that his shows now try to please, mainly performing songs off the most recent album, and losing a bit of the confrontation that made the shows fun in the first place. For example, at his Bloomsbury Ballroom show last year, he was standing on the photographer, spitting at the audience and stomping on the piano with his feet. The show at Koko was a lot more civilised by comparison, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. It would be good to get a bit of that Chilly-edginess back in the show.

At the other extreme end of the musical spectrum, Saturday night was spent at Kings Place, listening to the Aurora Orchestra. The star attraction of the show was to hear a new piece composed by Nico Muhly for a six string electric violin, called Seeing is Believing. It will probably take a few listens for it to sink in, as there is so much packed into the piece that it is hard to recall how one section fitted in with another. However, one thing it does prove is that Muhly can do a lot more than just make things sound pretty. (This was how most of his arrangements have seemed.) The accompanying pieces were interesting too, with Muhly’s beautiful arrangements of two motets by William Byrd, and ending on a chaotic piece by John Adams.

From a silly entertainer to a night of contemporary classical music, the only way to end the weekend was for something in between. The Barbican should have made more of the fact that their Marathon Steve Reich weekend was really a marathon. When a show starts at 6pm on a Sunday night, the initial assumption is that they started early so everyone can be off home early for the end of the weekend. Instead, we found ourselves still in the Barbican at six and half hours later (well seven and an half – having got there early to see the free performance by So Percussion.) Still, if nothing else, it was a great bargain for the ticket price.

I’ve wanted to see Clapping Music performed live since I first heard about it aged 10, and what better way to see it perform than with Reich himself? It kicked off the evening’s theme in the Reich pieces, complex rhythms shifting against each other, sometimes just seeming like an endless patter and at other times dissonance. Later on, with the performances of the melodic Reich pieces, the same occurred but now with harmonies as well as rhythm. To fill the gaps between the change over, So Percussion also popped up in the bar to play various percussive pieces, including Drumming Part 1. In another setting, it would have been easy to imagine the whole room dancing and raving along to it, such is the narrow divide between the classical and contemporary world.

As the theme of the Barbican weekend was music inspired by Steve Reich, the bill also included full-length sets by Owen Pallett, Clogs and Max Richter. Owen Pallett performed a marvellous orchestral version of Heartland. With the Britten Sinfonia at hand, it would have seemed obvious that all the samples and loops could be delegated to the orchestra. Instead, the orchestra was used to double up on the accompaniment with all the usual loops in their normal place. The only issue was the sound, that the band were so loud in the mix that it was a struggle to hear the orchestra at times. Still, when it all got going at full pelt, for example for The Great Elsewhere, it sounded wonderful.

Five hours into the bill, after all the excitement of the Reich pieces, Clogs and Max Richter came at the perfect time to round off the evening and calm down proceedings. It was a great way to round off the weekend. Max Richter’s string quintet produced such beautiful textures that if I had a sleeping bag (and they let me) I could have easily settled in for the night in the Barbican auditorium.