Posted by jill on March 17, 2012

In Alex Ross’s collection of his New Yorker articles, Listen to This, he touches on the concept of Alt-classical, the part of the musical landscape where rock, jazz and contemporary classical music come together. You could argue that one of the composers at the apex of this crossover is Nico Muhly, arranging orchestral scores for indie bands on the one hand and critically feted for his original compositions. He leads a gang which seem to cross over on both sides too, his cello soloist tonight Olly Coates who also performs jazz and organises more experimental bills and his previous violin soloist Thomas Gould who performs more like a rock star on stage than a classical soloist. From the other side, he has led more folky performers such as Sam Amidon and Doveman.

Although tonight was billed as the European and World premières of pieces by Missy Mazzoli, Owen Pallett and Nico Muhly, this was more like a night with Muhly. First off, Missy Mazzoli’s Violent, Violent Sea sounded quite tame when performed by a chamber orchestra. Though that could also have been due my position in the cheap(er) seats at the front.

Owen Pallett‘s first violin concerto was an interesting piece. The first movement started out being fairly tame, and you could just about imagine Owen singing the violin part as one of his songs. The faster movements (movements two and four) were a lot more exciting and the technical skill required was fascinating to watch. By the end of the concerto, Pekka Kuusisto the soloist had lost about half the hairs from his bow. It was a pretty good debut, and it will be intriguing to see where Pallet goes next with this type of composition.

However, of the three new pieces, undoubtedly the best was Muhly’s Cello Concerto. Whilst it had the trademark Muhly gloss and swell, it was also the must fully formed and full sounding piece of the three. The only criticism of Muhly’s compositions is that they all seem to end so suddenly, as if he has just been distracted by something else. This was certainly the case for the Cello concerto as well as some of his other arrangements later on in the evening.

In another demonstration of the cross over nature of this gang of musicians, the evening finished with an hour of more informal songs and performances without the full orchestra. The highlight of this section was the heartbreaking arrangement of Only Love Can Break Your Heart which emerged from out of nowhere (well, segued from a song by Sam Amidon). Muhly’s involvement was audible in all parts of this performance, sprinkling a glossy sheen and dense, comforting string arrangement. So much so, that when the concert ended it was like emerging from a very cosy duvet.


Whalewatching at the Barbican

Posted by jill on September 27, 2010

Icelandic label Bedroom Community might just be my favourite label at the moment. I can’t think of any other record label that can release such varied music with so few artists. Readers of this blog will already be acquainted with the ‘folk’ singer Sam Amidon and composer extraordinaire Nico Muhly (who seems to have had a hand in most of my favourite albums of the past two years). Joining them on the Whalewatching tour postscript (delayed because of the volcano five months ago) were Bedroom Community mastermind Valgeir Sigurðsson and electronic/noise maker Ben Frost, and four other instrumentalist (including one whose role included providing his hair as a percussion instrument).

Having already seen two great performance of the Amidon/Muhly collaborations in January, it was great to see a third reinterpretation of those songs, especially an astonishing version of The Only Tune as the closing song in the main set. On paper, it would seem challenging to join together all the different styles of the artists involved tonight, but it says a lot of Nico Muhly’s influence in the works of the other Bedroom Community artists, that the varied styles complemented each other instead. For example, two hours of Ben Frost’s noisy pieces might require too much concentration in one evening, however by working with a group of musicians and also interspersing them in amongst the more melodic songs it was wonderful to really enjoy them in the acoustics of the Barbican.