A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

London Sinfonietta, Varèse 360 (2), Ether Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 18/04/10

I was back at the Southbank Centre on Sunday afternoon for the final 2 concerts in the Varèse 360 series. The London Sinfonietta performed a selection of his shorter pieces in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Earlier in the afternoon I went along to a fascinating pre-concert discussion on Varèse. 

The concert was quite similar to the first show on Friday, all pieces being quite brief and consisting of primal, compacted rushes of sound. In particular ‘Hyperprism’ and ‘Octandre’ both fell into this category, perfectly condensed sonic excursions. ‘Un Grand Sommeil Noir’ and ‘Offrandes’ featured a female vocalist.

‘Poème électronique’ was played into the QEH through speakers as the orchestra retired from the stage. As the stage was left in darkness a selection of abstract visual imagery was projected on to the three rectangular screens. I have since read some mixed reports but I thought it allowed you to focus on listening to the music and was pretty non-intrusive. The images of scientific drawings and mathematical formulae seemed to emphasise the precision with which Varèse constructed his music. It was the first purely electronic piece of the weekend and sounded esoteric and exciting, even now sounding quite futuristic and otherworldly. God knows what people thought when they first heard it in the 1950s.

‘Intégrales’, one of his best pieces I think, closed the concert. It felt like one of his most ‘complete’ compositions, full of clashing percussion and hectic, dissonant brass. Although performed entirely on instruments it did almost sound electronic and digital in places and can possibly be seen as a precursor to modern electroacoustic music. A good example of what Malcolm MacDonald during the pre-concert talk had called Varèse's "gloriously scolding music". The concert may have only been just over 45 minutes in length but you got the impression that the music played really was pushing the orchestra to its limits.

The full programme was:

Un Grand Sommeil Noir
Poème électronique

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