The Times – 14 November 2017

Concert Review – LSO St Luke’s

Rebecca Franks

“Bravest of all were the vocalist Elaine Mitchener and the double bassist Neil Charles (the Charles Mitchener duet), who launched into two exhilarating, mind-bogglingly freewheeling improvisations.”

The variety of performers kept the ears alert — it will be good radio when it’s broadcast next year

Less traditional concert, more experimental music laboratory, this BBC Radio 3 Open Ear event showcased the quite new, the new and the made up on the spot. It’s an interesting formula. That I felt the results were mixed is almost part of the point. As John Cage reminded us, there’s an inherent value in the simple act of listening — and hearing. Open ears may lead to open eyes, hearts and minds.

Before I get too philosophical, let’s run through the nuts and bolts. The format worked well. Hosted by the assured Sara Mohr-Pietsch, who interviewed the composers and performers between pieces, the event was slickly planned and executed. The variety of performers — ensemble, soloist, duet — also kept the ears alert. It’ll be good radio when it’s broadcast next year, I’m sure.

Did I ever want to close my ears? No. But the conductor Aaron Holloway-Nahum was right about the divisive nature of Chaya Czernowin’s indigestible Ayre: Towed through plumes, thicket, asphalt, sawdust and hazardous air I shall not forget the sound of. Thierry Tidrow’s Clarintabile, for singing clarinettist, was a fascinating idea that, despite Heather Roche’s brilliance, sounded better in theory than in practice. And the viol player Liam Byrne’s looping of a 14th-century caccia seemed a bit of a gimmick.

Much more successful were the (always impeccable) Riot Ensemble’s performance of Clara Iannotta’s music-box-tinged, wind-chime-inspired The people here go mad. They blame the wind, and Alex Mills’s Suspensions and Solutions, which used reverb to build sonic edifices from Bryne’s nimble viol. Michelle Lou’s Telegrams played with bass clarinet multiphonics in interesting ways.

Bravest of all were the vocalist Elaine Mitchener and the double bassist Neil Charles (the Charles-Mitchener duet), who launched into two exhilaratingly, mind-bogglingly freewheeling improvisations. The second turned into a cry, a scream, a lament for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

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