Tuesday 21 November 2023

Challenging and exciting: Marius Neset joins London Sinfonietta for a performance his Geyser

Marius Neset: Geyser - Marius Neset, The London Sinfonietta (Photo: Sisi Burn)
Marius Neset: Geyser - Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta (Photo: Sisi Burn)

Marius Neset: Geyser; Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta, Geoffrey Paterson; EFG London Jazz Festival at Queen Elizabeth Hall 
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders (17 November 2023)

One enormous sweep of wildly contrasting sounds, the Norwegian saxophonist and London Sinfonietta return to their third large-scale collaboration, premiered at last year's BBC Proms

The remarkable musicians of the London Sinfonietta are no strangers to collaborative work, and Geyser marks the third large-scale piece that Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset has written for them. Following the critical and artistic successes of Snowmelt (2015) and Viaduct (2019) this composition was even more ambitious, taking the form of an extended eight movement, 75 minute work for jazz quintet and chamber orchestra. As part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, Neset was joined at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 17 November 2023 by the London Sinfonietta, Conor Chaplin (bass), Ivo Neame (piano), Anton Eger (drums), Jim Hart (percussion) and conductor Geoffrey Paterson.

Neset and the London Sinfonietta premiered Geyser as part of the BBC Proms 2022, and the work was a BBC Commission. At the time, Neset said of the work, ''In the beginning of the composing process Geyser, as a title for the composition, came to me as I found it was a great metaphor for the music that I was writing; melodic and rhythmic motifs that evolve, creating ever bigger tension and pressure with regularly repeating eruptions, just like the water shooting out from an Icelandic Geyser fountain. During the compositional process the world around us changed though within one day! It was impossible not to be affected by the terrible war in Ukraine. From that day onwards the music changed direction. I also started to re-write some of the earlier parts. And now the title gave even more meaning to me as it reflects how fast life can change from one day to another."

As the title might suggest, the piece erupted with great bursts of musical energy, predominantly joyful and confident, although the luxurious duration of the piece also allowed for more reflective moments. This was a work conceived in multi-movement symphonic dimensions. Rather than as a series of unconnected tracks that happen to form an album, this was music intended to be experienced in one enormous sweep of wildly contrasting sounds. 

From the high pitched, detached, isolated violins of the opening 'Waterfall' the piece gradually grew in intensity and complexity, before launching into the romantic and dramatic 'On Fire' - surging romantic strings and triumphant jazzy brass combined with Neset's inspired and wild soloing over a driving rhythm section, the overall effect creating something like a hallucination of all the best car chase scenes from sixties spy films.

Respite from all the excitement, noise and mayhem was provided. An extended and beautiful duet between Neame on piano and Hart's sublimely graceful vibraphone playing was followed by high, lonely and exploratory contributions from the Sinfonietta's violin section and a highly technical clarinet solo from the Sinfonietta's Mark van de Wiel, delivered with his customary panache and buttery smoothness of tone. The finale, "Outbreak", was another explosive outburst of sound - driven by Eger's frantic work on an expanded kit, this built and built, growing in complexity, before finally settling into massive sustained chords from the whole ensemble, bringing the packed Queen Elizabeth Hall crowd to its feet in an noisy explosion of their own.

Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders

Marius Neset: Geyser - Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta (Photo: Sisi Burn)
Marius Neset: Geyser - Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta (Photo: Sisi Burn)

In conversation with the Sinfonietta's artistic director, Andrew Burke, he spoke about how the ensemble pride themselves in their ability to work so successfully with musicians from different genres:

FM What is it like for a contemporary classical ensemble to work closely with an improvising musician like Marius?

AB Working with Marius Nesit is so extraordinary, it's a really honest and respectful collaboration... [with a] real sense of joyfulness. The players are delighted to be able to work with him again. The insight they get from working with musicians from different genres lead themselves to think about the music they're playing in a different way.

FM Could you give an example?

AB Well, for example, Marius thinks about phrasing in terms of beats. He's created these extended, overlaid patterns of 23 beats, or 13 beats. Our classically trained musicians need these broken down into bars, which gives a different sense of phrasing. Working with Marius helps them to feel the phrases in a different way, with different emphasis.

FM Across the EFG London Jazz Festival there's been quite a few of these collaborative programs. What's the appeal for jazz musicians of working with a “classical” orchestra?

AB One of the strengths we have are players who can read and perform anything. The Sinfonietta is a very special ensemble. The way they hear and interpret music is unique, I think.

FM What do you think is the single most important gain from this collaboration?

AB I'd say that the really important thing is that the Sinfonietta is not just turned into a backing band in this new piece. They're totally involved and an essential part of the work. I'm really pleased to be working with musicians who are willing to stretch our players. The results are both challenging and exciting.

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