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Varèse 360° (1)

[Varèse 360° is a Holland Festival production, co-produced with the Festival d’Automne à Paris, Radio France, Salle Pleyel, Southbank Centre and Ensemble Asko/Schoenberg. The London performances are presented by Southbank Centre, the London Sinfonietta and the National Youth Orchestra.]

Ionisation – Density 21.5 – Ecuatorial, for bass and ensemble – Etude pour Espace – Déserts

London Sinfonietta/ David Atherton (conductor)

Sir John Tomlinson (bass)
EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble
Jonathan Golove, Natasha Farny (cello theremin)

Cathie Boyd (staging, director, video, lighting)
Sound Intermedia
Pippa Nissen (video)
Zerlina Hughes (lighting)
Dan Ayling (stage manager)

Queen Elizabeth Hall London, 16 April 2010

Let there be Lights (2) - q.v. 2 Nov, 2003 - the Monteverdi concerts inhabited a different world, "atmospheric"... - a "show", with blue and orange illumination on stage and near total darkness in the auditorium, despite an angry shout from within the audience "can we have some light"! Mark Tucker had provided more than two pages of closely argued analytic notes. And in the £3 programme there were seven pages of text, with translations.

The well attended opening event of the London repeat of Varèse 360° (not a brilliant title?) attracted a younger audience than usual for classical music at Queen Elisabeth Hall, one comprising people seeking out novelty and experimentation, for whom Varèse's rarely played music from long ago given in extenso would have been a new experience. The percussion extravaganza Ionosation gave the eveninga good start, unique to watch and exciting enough to hear. Some of the pieces were mere marginal notes included for completeness. Most substantial was Déserts; most weird Ecuatorial in which Sir John bravely intoned unintelligible words, without a megaphone which was needed at its first performance. Nice to have got a pair of cello theremins!!

Dominating the evening in the London repeat was the distracting visual contribution of Cathie Boyd and colleagues, the essence of which held the audience in total darkness throughout each half, even during prolonged platform rearrangements which we perforce watched achieved precariously on the dimmed platform. The SBC ushers all deployed specially provided torches to help late-comers to their seats; none were supplied for us... We were denied any possibility instead to try to study the extensive notes and vocal texts printed in the programme (trendily over-printed, making them not easy to read even in a good light). So much for "atmosphere"...

Last year, in the Holland Festival, Ivan Hewett described finding himself confronted with six screens for video installations and "shadowy figures down on the platform space - - When the images were interesting they were distracting, when they weren’t they were toe-curling."[Telegraph].

We found similar efforts in London equally futile. At QEH, the images projected on three screens around the stage, plus on both sides of the auditorium walls, were never more than banal and visually minimal, as we tend to find again and again in concerts with those gratuitous extras.

So it was to be once again for Paul Daniel and the National Youth Orchestra. At their Sunday afternoon Royal Festival Hall rehearsal (they'd given the concert at The Sage, Newcastle a couple of days before)
the platform was bathed variously in red and mauve light... (we were reviewing at Wilton's in the evening).

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also boulezian.blogspot: Varèse 360° (1) - London Sinfonietta/Atherton: "the multi-media presentation aspect was the least interesting, much of it barely going beyond something one might see on a computer screen-saver " [Editor]