Saturday, March 21, 2009

Horizon Concert: Benjamin Dwyer & Raymond Deane

It is not often that I get invited to a concert by one of the composers, so when Raymond Deane sent me a Facebook invite to this lunchtime concert I jumped at a chance to get me some of that modern classical action. This particular lunchtime event was focussed on Benjamin Dwyer, a composer, guitarist, and fixture on the local avant-garde musical scene, but Raymond Deane's Embers was also on the bill. This is an early enough piece, originally written for string quartet and then revised in 1979 for orchestra*. It features a lot of call-response stuff between the lead violin and the rest of the orchestra. It is also pretty slow as well, and features many moments of silence.

With those astonishing insights, my powers of musical description fail me, so I will now switch to talking about the audience. As you know, some people find it very hard to sit still, and the interludes of silence seemed to be a real trial for them. My sonic experience of this piece was therefore almost as much about crowd noise as it was about was about the playing of the musicians. Aside from the usual coughers and fidgeters, extra marks must go to the two babies who seemed to be calling out to each other from either side of the auditorium, or the old bint sitting near me who kept shuffling papers as she took no doubt fascinating notes. Raymond Deane himself was sitting behind me, and I kept wondering if he was going to deal out instant justice to those who were embellishing his work. No such luck.

The second piece was a Benjamin Dwyer piece, his Concerto No. 1 for Guitar & Strings, with the short title of Lorca. Dwyer himself took to the stage to play guitar with the orchestra, and introduce the piece – a piece celebrating the life of the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and lamenting his fate (brutally murdered by Franco's thugs). To me it seemed more sadface than celebration. As a piece of music it was enjoyable enough, but I must confess to a certain scepticism about the guitar as a classical instrument. That the long title of the piece called to mind Deep Purple's Symphony for Rock Band and Orchestra did not help.

Crowd noise was a bit less noticeable on this one, but someone did manage to let forth some extraordinarily noisy coughs just as the piece was reaching its mournful finish.

The final piece was Dwyer's Rajas, Sattva, Tamas – Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra. At the time, I only noticed the beginning of the title, and thought "Indian influenced music, excellent! Time for a nice snooze". How wrong I was. This was basically an all-percussion, all-the-time kind of piece, with lead percussionist Richard O'Donnell playing every kind of percussion instrument imaginable (though thankfully not all at once), and playing them very loud. So no lunchtime nap for me. This proved actually to be a most enjoyable piece, calling to mind that classic work The Weather Symphony from 2000 AD.

So yes, a musically enjoyable lunchtime, and (like all these Horizon concerts) free. My one big criticism, though, was that the length of the programme did not really make any concessions to those of us who have to work for a living. This would make me a bit wary of going near any future Horizon events.

* Astute readers will have registered that I am now doing that lazy writer thing of just quoting back the programme as though it was stuff I knew for myself.

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