Plus-Minus Ensemble at Kings Place

Thursday 15 April 2010

For an insight to what going to one of these types of concerts is like, you must read the review at Notes From A Defeatist.

They played Xenakis’ Dikhtas and Evryali, two pieces which have been decking audiences for over thirty years and need no further praise from me right now. There was also Vermillion, a trio for clarinet, cello and electric guitar by Rebecca Saunders, a composer whose work I’m just starting to get familiar with. But Vermillion was a disappointment, a tentative and awkward piece made moreso by the clumsy and self-conscious use of the guitar.

I was tempted out to hear this mostly because of the interview with Bryn Harrison at The Rambler – Harrison’s lengthy Repetitions in Extended Time made up the second half of the programme. Harrison’s music gets described as a combination of Morton Feldman and Brian Ferneyhough, a sort of hybrid of the American and the European strains of the refined avant-garde. Repetitions in Extended Time certainly bore a superficial resemblance to late Feldman, with its ambiguously shifting patterns repeated with subtle changes.

For a while the piece was intriguing, in the way that it picked up on one technical aspect of Feldman’s music and made something new from it. (So much music written since Feldman’s death, such as Vermillion, seems so timid, as if overawed by the implications of making any sound at all.) By the latter stages, however, the music’s unvarying surface and mood became familiar, whereas Feldman’s music never loses its strangeness.

I haven’t heard enough of this music to know whether it is in fact an attempt to square the circle, to rationalise Feldman’s musical language with academic theories. Remembering it now, I wonder if the future will be kind to it, and whether what sounds fresh and innovative about it now will be just the things that later strike us as derivative and compromised.