A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Ensemble Intercontemporain at Royal Festival Hall

I picked up a late ticket to go to see the final concert in the Messiaen festival on the South Bank last night (on the centenary of Messiaen’s birth). It featured two relatively less well known pieces by Messiaen – ‘Couleurs de la cite celeste’ & ‘Sept Haiku’ and finished with ‘Sur Incises’ a piece by the evening’s conductor, Pierre Boulez.

The Messiaen pieces were relatively short pieces, both registering at the upper end of the musical scale, full of fast, dynamic high notes and featuring the striking virtuosic piano embellishments performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. The first piece especially picked up on the birdsong themes present in a lot of Messiaen’s work and also touched on the issue of synthasesia. It was quite unusual to see the RFH stage with so few performers – the Ensemble Intercontemporain being a lot smaller than the kind of orchestra that usually plays the RFH.

‘Sur Incises’ resulted in the stage being even more sparsely populated – 3 pianos, 3 harps and 3 percussionists combining to create a complex, slightly minimal sounding piece – not as loud or raucous as I had expected, given what I had read online and had been mentioned in the pre-concert talk. This had taken place in the St Paul’s Pavilion room and featured Gillian Moore, the South Bank’s Head Of Contemporary Culture talking about the series and concert. Some of her comments struck a note with me – especially how educational the year-long Messiaen festival had been. I didn’t know too much about him at the start of the year, but now know a lot about his life, music and passions. A great example of how the South Bank can really inspire and educate with it’s out-reaching and ambitious programming.

I was sat up in the balcony, three rows from the back on the left hand side. The view was great, you can really appreciate the full scale of the hall from up there. It had been a while since I had been to the RFH but this concert really reminded me of what a great venue it is and made me start thinking about booking tickets for more concerts in 2009.

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