Contemporary Music – in or out of the Concert Hall

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To London, for London Sinfoniettas site specific work IN TIME. Six musicians performing a range of specially selected contemporary works in the vast expanse of the Western Goods Shed of Kings Cross Station. The video gives a small flavour of the evening (FLIP cameras are not strong on trapping musical excellence so forgive the sound and the crude cutting but hopefully it gives you an idea of the space and the event).

It was a curious experience and has provoked quite a bit of post show debate which is always a good thing. Ultimately whilst it was exciting seeing these works performed outside of the concert hall (the opening vocal piece and the flute and percussion piece benefitting hugely from the sense of space) the whole thing did leave you with a sense that it didn’t quite reach its destination. Perhaps it didnt even quite know where it was going?

Yes it was exciting to see and hear what appeared to be a random selection of contemporary pieces (not sure if there were programme notes) in a highly unusual setting but I couldnt help asking myself why?. The whole point of site specific work is exactly that its site specific and I couldnt fathom why those pieces in that space. Not could I sense the performers and the projections relationship to the sense. It needed a stronger visual flair and a stronger narrative voice to take it out of the interesting box and into the wow box.

Curiously one of the artists who has been exploring exactly those areas made his Purcell room debut the following day playing an eclectic programme of Max de Wardener, John Richards, John Adams, Messian , Part and a beautiful Aphex Twin piece for encore. Last time Id been to a Dutta gig Id found myself sat on a hale bale, draped in fur, supping mulled wine in an old warehouse whilst listening to Plaid perform one of the parts of the Compass Serries.

Will and his fellow producer had taken an original space ( a warehouse next to a lighthouse), dressed it sensitively (both to the space and the programme) and created an environment which made for a unique and very special experience for the audience and allowed the music to shine through. It also tempted you to think if the summer festival market is crowded how about unique winter fests?

Of course those kind of production values would be frowned upon in the Purcell rooms and therein lies a dilemma for Dutta. Having made his name making classical contemporary evenings work in non concert spaces (in pubs, clubs, warehouses etc) he finds himself courted (and no doubt courting) the established players. But how do you transfer the informality and lack of rules found in a non concert hall onto the stages of Kings Place and the Southbank? On this evidence he’s yet to find the answer.

I remember coming out of his recent gig at Kings Place with the Sinfonietta thrilled to see a nearly packed house but disappointed to find us seated in neat rows, applauding in all the right moments and observing all the ridiculous rules of the concert hall. At the Purcell Rooms Duttas stage presence fell somewhere between two stools. Dressed in casual chic (great shoes) he shuffled on stage and somewhat apologetically sat at the piano. Barely looking at the audience he hurried into the programme neither allowing breathing space between the pieces or giving the audience permission to applaud. In fact given that engagement and breaking down barriers has been a hall mark of Duttas work outside of the concert hall its curious to see him perpetuate the fourth wall here.

That shouldnt take away from the fact that as a pianist and a producer Dutta is a really exciting prospect and for a curious (but in no way expert) contemporary music intender like me he is a perfect guide. And you have to feel that if the Sinfonietta had been working with Dutta on IN TIME it might just have been a perfect partnership.


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