Friday 2 October 2009

London Sinfonietta: Sonic Explorations - 20th Century Classics (1), 1 October 2009

Hall One, Kings Place

Ligeti – Artikulation
Nono – A Pierre
Francis Dhomont – Vol d’Arondes (London premiere)
Berio – Différences

Michael Cox (flute)
Andrew Webster (clarinet)
Sound Intermedia
London Sinfonietta
Nicholas Collon (conductor)

The opening concert of the London Sinfonietta’s Sonic Explorations festival, and the first of two entitled ‘20th Century Classics’, presented three acknowledged ‘classics’ and one work, which, given not only that it was receiving its London premiere, but was written in 1999 and revised in 2002, might seem somewhat to be stretching the definition. It was nevertheless interesting to make the acquaintance of Francis Dhomont’s Vol d’Arondes, in splendid eight-channel surround sound. In a sense, this sounded like a newer version of musique concrete, but with a greater sense of freedom, of listening for whatever the sometimes surprisingly urban sounds of a Provençal village might bring. A ‘flight of swallows’ should not be taken literally. Hearing the tape expertly adapted to the space of Hall One by Sound Intermedia (London Sinfonietta principals, David Sheppard and Ian Dearden: the latter, I think, on this occasion), one learned and experienced much in terms of how a Stockhausen-like melody of sounds moving between locations might operate. I confess that I find it difficult to listen to this, unlike, say, Stockhausen’s COSMIC PULSES, as music, but as a sonic experience, an impression of a memory-based travelogue, and indeed as a document of how electro-acoustic music has advanced technologically, it was at the very least interesting.

The concert had opened with a work from the early years of such explorations. Ligeti’s Artikulation was born in the Cologne WDR studios. Not only in its monaural sound and its hints of Heath Robinson, but also in its fusion of post-Webern pointillism and the work of studio pioneers, this now sounds very much of its time (1958). There is nothing wrong with that; but it seems that we do need now to consider such works, as the concert’s title suggested, as classics. Ligeti’s relentless curiosity and deft lightness of touch ensure that there is nothing standard-issue to the work; it has a kinship with the work of other composers, but is equally very much Ligeti’s own.

That said, I personally found Luigi Nono’s homage to Pierre Boulez more involving. Robert Worby, in his admirably clear introductory talk, had drawn our attention, quite rightly, to the difference between hearing and listening. Nono’s music, perhaps especially his later music, is tailor-made to make one listen. Indeed, the act of listening becomes an act of revolutionary resistance in itself. This ravishingly beautiful work for double bass flute, double bass clarinet, and electronics is utterly characteristic yet utterly individual. Recording processes had developed so far from the time of Ligeti’s studio work that digital technology could now (1985) enable transformation of instrumental sound in ‘real time’. As ever, the shadows, the whispers, and the Venetian lapping of waves – metaphors perhaps, or perhaps not – ravished one’s senses. Softly beguiling, one was enticed truly to listen – just as one is with Webern. For this, the splendid performances from Michael Cox and Andrew Webster, together once again with expert work from Sound Intermedia, must be credited.

The final work returned us to the late 1950s (1958-9): Berio’s Différences. This, however, barely seemed to have dated at all. Nicholas Collon directed soloists of the London Sinfonietta in a performance that sparkled with the composer’s wit. The interaction between instruments and electronics – by virtue of studio transformation of the instrumental sounds – compels one to listen once again. The developmental line first brings us instrumental music, which is gradually superseded by electronic music, until once again we hear ‘live’ instruments, their sound changed by our experience of their prior electronic transformation. Berio’s sense of fun, at no cost to seriousness of purpose, was well served in this account.

I regret having been unable to stay for the second concert of the evening, ‘Letters from the Americas’, comprising two scores to be intertwined for film by Javier Alvarez, the London premiere of Flo Menezes’s Parcours de l’Entité, and James Tenney’s For Percussion Perhaps, Or... (night). But the opening concert augured well for what is to come; I look forward to more ‘20th Century Classics’ on Saturday.