Sunday 12 January 2014

Scelsi, Vivier, Scott Walker and Radiohead

Filthy Lucre 3: Cults - The Bussey Building/CLA Arts Cafe Peckham
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 11 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Scelsi, Vivier, Scott Walker and Radiohead in a new type of club night

It has become popular for established ensembles to promote 'club night' style concerts in the hope of attracting a younger audience by performing music outside of the standard classical concert concept. Last night (11 January 2014) in Peckham we attended an event in this style, but one which had been created by young musicians themselves. Joe Bates and Anthony Friend started their Filthy Lucre events in Cambridge in 2010, last night's Filthy Lucre 3: Cults was the fourth such, and the first in London. They describe Filth Lucre as creating 'immersive musical experiences with carefully crafted programmes built around artistic concepts and cohesive musical ideas'. The event took place in the Bussey Building (The CLA Art Cafe) in Peckham, a re-purposed Victorian warehouse space just behind Peckham high street.

Filthy Lucre 3: Cults took over two floors of the building (there was a separate event, a Hawaiian Bop, upstairs on the third floor). On entry you passed bouncers and had your hand stamped just like any other club. Doors opened at 8pm and people were encouraged to arrive to have a drink before hand, and the bar did indeed have an impressive selection of wines and bottled beers (not your usual club venue this!). One whole wall was covered in atmospheric projections: Georgia Hicks is credited with design and animation, Paul Vernon with trailer and filming and Justinas Brikys with photography. A few chairs were laid out for the audience, but most were expected to stand, or sit on the floor. The orchestra had individual stand lights, so that the overall lighting level was low.

The Filthy Lucre Orchestra consisted of 23 musicians, including eight strings, conducted by Will Cole. The programme started late, but on the sound of the bass drum being banged they instrumentalists walked in, dressed in black and all wearing white face make-up with random coloured streaks (earlier I had heard two of the orchestral musicians talking back-stage with one lamenting that he'd forgotten his make-up). This matched the make-up of the dancers who mingled with the audience (more of them later).

The first item was Giacinto Scelsi's Anahit, a violin concerto written by one of the most idiosyncratic figures in 20th century Italian music. Scelsi (1905 - 1988) changed his style after his experiences in a Swiss sanatorium following the Second World War. To quote Joe Bates' excellent programme notes (available for download on the night) 'His music is primarily based around the exploration of single notes, whose sounds are explored with a multitude of sonorities and tunings. It is believed that this creative principle was inspired by his time spent hammering a single note on the sanatorium’s poor-quality piano.'

Anahit was written in 1965 and is named after the ancient Persian and Armenian goddess of Love. The solo violin part was played by Aisha Orazbeyeva. The work is a tricky one to bring off, Scelsi uses a lot of microtones, particularly in the solo part, and frankly one's first reaction can be that they are playing out of tune. But you soon learn to appreciate the fascinating depth of timbre that Scelsi brings to the piece. There's not melodic development as such, and precious little harmonic development either, instead he explores a series of textures and timbres.

I have never heard the work live and there was some difficulty in listening to such a complex piece in the presence of a skittish and rather mobile audience. We had the misfortune to be standing in what became a corridor for passage to the toilets and during the Scelsi there was a steady stream of people back and forth. This raises interesting issues about the type of repertoire for such concerts. When writing for lively 18th century audiences, Haydn and his contemporaries used rhetorical devices in their music to get the audiences attention. But Scelsi's work was written on the assumption that it would be played to an audience who were concentrating solely on the music, not quite what we got at Peckham.

That said, Cole, Orazbeyeva and the Filthy Lucre Orchestra made a magnificent stab at the work, bringing out the fascinating closely worked textures. Scelsi seems to have had a fascination for the opposition of extremes of pitch, with only the soloist in the middle to mediate. In the middle section, essentially a solo cadenza for the violin, Orazbeyeva was spectacular, executing some fiendish double stopping with aplomb.

The audience's response was perhaps not as enthusiastic as the performance deserved, but the ensemble gave us some truly ravishing sonic moments.

Afterwards, we had a Scott Walker song orchestrated by the young composer Joel Rust (whose original work featured later in the programme). Sleepwalker's Woman was sung by the bass Geoff Clapham, accompanied by Coles and the orchestra. The song comes from Walker's 1984 solo album, though as a performer Walker is best known for his membership of the pop trio The Walker Brothers.

Geoff Clapham is cathedral chorister/choral scholar trained, and he currently sings at Westminster Cathedral, but also has a parallel career performing in bands. Here he sang with microphone but displayed a fabulously resonant voice, combined with a confident manner with the mike. Dressed in leather jacket and wearing the same face make-up as the others, he cut an atmospheric figure. The song made an interesting transition between what we think of as conventionally popular, and certainly did not sound out of place.

Then there was off-stage clarinet music and we were beckoned by the dancers to move upstairs. A process which might have seemed atmospheric idea on paper, but which was rather more complex in practice. Once upstairs, in another warehouse space, three musicians ( Chris Goodman clarinet, Mark Lipski double-bass and Gwenaelle Rouger synthesizer) played. First there were three short pieces by Jonny Greenwood (also a member of the band Radiohead) Time Hole, The Split Saber and Atomic Healer and then one by Joe Bates Induction. The pieces were played continuously and we had been asked not to applaud between. After the first piece, the dancers appeared; choreography was by Julie Schmidt Andreasen and she was joined by Tim Clark, Victoria Guy and Robyn Holder.

Jonny Greenwood's music all comes from the film The Master and Andreasen's highly physical choreography was inspired by the film mixing wrestling, tango and other more physical dance. The whole had the effect of a rather sinister ritual. The choreography led seamlessly into Joe Bates's Induction (here receiving its premiere), a work which had jazz influences and a rather passacaglia-like feel to its construction. Sight lines were not good as people were simply standing round the dancing area and a number of people behind me gave up and walked off. You felt that the organisers should take a leaf out of the National Theatre's Mysteries cycle which played as a promenade production and the cast members themselves organised the audience and got them to sit down to improve sight lines.

Following a short interval, the performance returned to the orchestra space for the premiere of Joel Rust's Haruspex. The title refers to the Roman priest who would tell the future by examining animals' entrails. The piece came over as a series of interesting gestures, with Rust indicating a fascination for different textures rather than melodic interest.  Audience noise made some of the detail difficult to appreciate, and I am not certain whether Rust wrote the work for orchestra or specifically for the reduced forces that the Filthy Lucre Orchestra used. The performance was highly creditable and this is a piece that I would be interested in hearing again. Rust studied composition at Cambridge with Robin Holloway, did a masters at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama studying with Julian Anderson and spent a year at Harvard on a Herchel Smith Scholarship.

Geoff Clapham the returned with a further Scott Walker song, Jesse, a piece which seemed to push the genre of song to breaking point. Rust's orchestration was very Bernard Herman like and the piece came over more as dramatic recitative, curious and very eerie.

We were then led upstairs for further dance, this time the premiere of Joe Bates's Rumspringa and two further Jonny Greenwood pieces, Application 45 Version and Able-Bodied Seamen. The choreography was played continuously. The opening was austere and rather gestural, with both music and dance matching a rather Oriental atmosphere. We had added percussion, but Rouger playing the synth with one hand and beating a drum with the other and at other times Lipski did body percussion on his double bass These dances seemed more closely aligned to the music than the earlier ones, with Andreasen using a vivid gestural language. Again you felt that there was a drama hidden behind the athletic choreography.

We returned downstairs for the final orchestral set. The evening had been running late (the first interval was curtailed and the second cancelled), so this meant that Claude Vivier's Bouchara was performed against the sounds coming from the Hawaiian Bop upstairs. This was tricky as the piece starts from nothing and the slow evocative phrases were disturbed both by the thump from upstairs and by the noise from the bar. The work is written for soprano (soloist Juliet Fraser), woodwind quintet, string quintet, percussion and tape. I have to confess that I didn't realise that tape was involved till the very and remain unclear what bit I heard from the tape and what bits from background noise.

Vivier described Bouchara as a love song, but the singer is singing in a made-up language. Fraser displayed nice control and poise. Vivier wrote the piece in 1981 is named for the ancient Uzbekistani town of Bukhara. The piece had a slow build and both Fraser and the orchestra displayed impressive control in the gradual slow build-up, though I am not sure whether the subtlety of Vivier's orchestration came over.

The live part of the evening finished with Geoff Clapham singing a selection of songs by Radio Head, Dirty Projectors, Frank Ocean and Yeasayer which acted as a nice link to the final part of the evening which was an extended DJ session from Turf resident ILGHAZI.

Filthy Lucre 3 was a fascinating and daring experiment, performing some challenging 20th century music in an entirely new and different context. All the performers were impressive in the way that the were able to play despite any surrounding distractions, and produce performances of concentrated intensity. Like all experiments, not everything work, and I think more thought needs to go into encouraging the audience to pay attention during the more complex pieces (frankly I felt like slapping some of them at times). But Joe Bates and Anthony Friend are to be encouraged and I hope there will be further Filthy Lucre events.

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