A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Jóhann Jóhannsson, Greg Haines & Nils Frahm, St Giles-in-the-Fields, 27/05/10

I was at St Giles-in-the-Fields last night to see the Arctic Circle promoted concert featuring three acclaimed modern classical musicians – Nils Frahm, Greg Haines and Jóhann Jóhannsson. It was my second visit to St Giles, another great London church-venue and definitely a worthy rival to Union Chapel up the road in Islington. I love how the natural light filters in from the side windows of the church and as it gets darker outside this is replicated inside. I arrived slightly later than planned so had to take a seat at the back which doesn’t really have the greatest sightlines (the only negative, along with the uncomfortable pews) so I spent a lot of the show with eyes closed, absorbed in the music.

I had seen Nils Frahm support the North Sea Radio Orchestra here last year and he played a similar set of deep, rippling, impressionistic piano sequences. I love how he enters the church via the same entrance as the audience, informally approaches the piano, removes his bag, sits down and starts to effortlessly play his music from memory. As I remarked in my post on the last time I saw him play he seems totally entranced by his own music. Really moving stuff.

I found Greg Haines’ set very much like his albums – beautiful and engaging, if slightly cold and austere (although in an enjoyable way). He played piano & laptop with support from a colleague playing viola, producing brittle melodies that sat alongside vignettes of abstract sound. He finished with a track from his recently released his second album ‘Until The Point Of Hushed Support’.

Icelandic composer/performer Jóhann Jóhannsson is somewhat of a defining artist for me in terms of the direction in which my recent musical listening has progressed. The last three years has seen modern classical dominate my listening and Jóhann Jóhannsson has assumed a central role alongside artists like Max Richter, Peter Broderick, Sylvain Chauveau, Eluvium, Murcof, Olafur Arnalds, Goldmund, Jacaszek and Ryan Teague in this development.

His slow-building, richly orchestral music, full of gracious arches and melodic curves, is both musically rewarding and shows an impressive scale of ambition (his recent album ‘Fordlândia’ is about the failed project of Amercian car manufacturer Henry Ford to create a town in the Amazon rainforest which would provide him with a cheap source of rubber for the tyres for his cars – you can read more about it here).

Tonight he played piano/electronics alongside the magnificent Iskra String Quartet, playing a set drawn mostly from his albums ‘Fordlândia, & ‘Englabörn’. I have only been able to listen to his new album ‘And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees’ a couple of times so I am not as familiar with it as I could be but I don’t think he played anything from it tonight? If anyone out there knows differently please let me know!

He finished his main set with a sublime version of ‘Odi Et Ami’ from ‘Englabörn’, then returned for an encore which ended with the epic title track from ‘Fordlândia’ – which, every time I listen to it, seems more like a musical representation of a sunrise. As the strings quietly appear you can imagine a sun edging above the horizon, the strings swell and resonate as the sun rises until it stands tall in the sky, the radiant orchestral sound finding form in the beams of light projecting downwards. I don’t know, maybe I have watched one too many BBC science documentaries (a few of which have been soundtracked by this piece of music). It was how I had hoped he would end the concert and featured some sensational playing from all involved.

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