Paul Kilbey writes on music and culture for Culture Wars, Huffington Post UK and several others. All his articles are listed at www.paulkilbey.co.uk.
There are, though, moments of directorial wit as well, and their characterisation of Rusalka – adorably played by Camilla Nylund – is delightful, as she struggles in her high-heels and gets her wedding outfit wrong. Up until the rape bit, the giant cat’s a laugh too.
If we subscribe to the belief that the symphony is the ultimate symbol of classical music generally, the highest, purest classical form, it follows pretty quickly that the best of classical music is firmly confined to the past. Pushing so hard to expand the cultural reach of mainstream symphonic tradition is ultimately a deeply conservative thing to do.
In truth, ‘Nonclassical Club Night’ might have been a misnomer – ‘Classical Non-Club Night’ would probably have been a more technically accurate description. This isn’t to say, though, that it was a completely standard classical recital – and nor is it to say that the changes of format and tone which it adopted weren’t incredibly beneficial.
There were moments during these long pieces when I did wish the ICA had some more comfortable chairs. But to describe any of the Wandelweiser repertoire as boring would be – to push Cage a little further – unimaginative. There are very conspicuously more questions than answers in all of this music, but I struggle to see what’s wrong with that. Wandelweiser are radically unpatronising to their audience.
Vivid scattergun readings by Sinclair and Moore, whose striking first-person narrative was a moving insight into the tragedy of the story, compellingly transported the audience to Clare’s countryside. What the ensuing witch-hanging-blackface-jig-metal-pounding lacked in consistency or subtlety, it made up for in genuine lunacy.
The line ‘What did you expect: the Spanish Inquisition?’ is little more flippant than much of the original text by Da Ponte, who, in adapting his text from the play by Beaumarchais, deliberately expunged all references to politics. The Marriage of Figaro is absolutely not a commentary on the banking crisis, and is all the better for it.
All the artists who spoke treated sound as something other. As a musician, I was surprised by this - perhaps just because I am used to putting sound first, but also perhaps because the visual element of musical performance is and always has been a firmly established part of music: any musical experience always involves seeing things. But the reverse is not the case.
A picture emerged of a composer who clearly cares far more about the brilliant sonic effect of his music than about tiffs within the avant-garde or abstruse questions of technique. Every work we heard unfolded a strange, imagined shape in the air, leaving a trace which sat in some unknown relationship to logic.
The commitment of Burstein and Edwards to their piece is never in doubt, and good for them. Furthermore, the creators’ zealousness has attracted the support of a hugely talented young theatre company. It’s just a pity that this company’s faith hasn’t been better rewarded.
In the discussion which followed the concert, it was refreshing to hear Philip Thomas and Anton Lukoszevieze (the founder of Apartment House, as well as its cellist) strongly defend Cage as a composer, not just an ideas man, as he is sometimes viewed.
The facts to be learned range from the curious (we learn that towels are ‘very popular generic gifts’ in Japan, and most people therefore have far too many) to the crazy (‘It is also common to eat a bean for every year of your age’), and they document everything from rubbish collection etiquette to gardening habits.
Prokofiev provides the DJ with several opportunities to improvise – ‘cadenzas’, if you want (apparently the DJ’s score reads ‘go nuts’) – and Switch capitalised on these opportunities fully. The performance was a remarkable display of virtuosity, both performative and compositional, with Prokofiev juggling between his divergent influences with sincerity and ambition.
It seems uncontroversial to write that the NCH is not the answer to this country’s higher education problems. As Dennis Hayes very convincingly argued, it is barely even the question. And we must, of course, wait until it’s actually been open for a while before we can properly judge its merits. In the meantime, the corroding effect of educational bureaucracy may well constitute a more substantive target for debate.