The London Sinfoniettas evening of recently composed music called the New Music Show is typically forward-looking, presenting four world and UK premieres (out of five works) in a programme intended to showcase the most dazzling upstarts of contemporary composition. Some of the music is fascinating, some forgettable, but the fact that that new music is being commissioned at all is a wonderful thing.
Charlie Pipers throwaway animated film opened the evening with a resolute whimper – uninspired, but a valiant attempt to mix things up a bit. Pipers actual music, entitled Insomnia, had a pleasantly Tim Burton-in-a-toyshop style to it, representing mental states of sleeplessness in a mildly entertaining manner. There were beautiful moments, particularly in the second, sleepier movement, but the score as a whole seemed to call for corresponding imagery, since there wasnt quite enough in the music itself to survive without a crutch. Film music without a film.
The piece (or event) that most of the audience must have been looking forward to was Dai Fujikuras Double Bass Concerto. What an amazing prospect! The performance began with gorgeous, tantalizing sounds Enno Senft slapping and jabbing at his double bass in an array of inventive attacks, coupled with fascinating pulsations from piano and percussion. Unfortunately the promise of the opening bars soon dwindled, as the ensemble writing turned out to be straight from the how to write avant-garde music handbook, and the structure of the piece failed to produce any unified or cohesive narrative, becoming monotonous in its variety.
Iris ter Schiphorsts new piece Zestren was entirely confident, and mature in its conception:the ensemble was performing this time as a unit, and with a clear sense of purpose and form. A rough and shaggy sound-world, Zerstren moved with focussed drama, abandoning the facile atmospheric swamps of the previous two works.
In Steven Daversons defence, an atmospheric swamp seemed to have been his intention he hinted at in such in his lucid speech before his piece Elusive Tangibility III: Clandestine Haze (prize for the most pretentious title of the night, hands down). The music, scored for a pared down Sinfonietta of only six players, was like an aural representation of a joss stick burning in slow motion, an eerily drifting fog of harmonies, resting and vanishing gently. Perhaps unfair to judge out of context of its five other movements.
Finally and thankfully was Piedras by Francisco Coll. After a clich-ridden introductory film in which Coll advised the audience to follow their dreams, there came a firestorm of the most gripping music, alive with colour and mercurial energy. Coll is a real master of orchestration and is completely in control of his musical material. Piedras was brimming with vivid, exciting and intelligent ideas, while maintaining a grip on the bigger architectural picture, effortlessly trouncing the competition. Not that this was a competition.
Further details of Queen Elizabeth Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk