Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Blank Canvas @ 93 Feet East, Brick Lane, London

9 July 2008

An eclectic evening of 20th and 21st century works organised by Dilettante Music and Will Dutta in a contemporary setting for a contemporary audience.

The venue is a darkened bar with a small stage – perfect for an intimate gig, but uncharted as a classical venue. The audience at 93 Feet East are pretty relaxed time keepers so the performance started a couple of hours after the doors opened, the first of many pleasant little shocks.

From half seven till quarter to nine Dominic Murcott provided a DJ set of avant-garde classics from composers like Conlon Nancarrow, Jonathan Harvey and a host of other exotic and electronic rarities.

The evening’s actual performances opened up with Debussy’s gorgeous suite Pour le piano played with conviction by Dutta, which deserves more silence than the noisy fan behind the bar could muster, but looking around most of the audience were completely transfixed, regardless. This certainly wasn’t an audience of seasoned concert-goers, with applause bursting out between movements.

After a break there was a sort of multi-screen video composition by Murcott (head of Composition at Trinity College of Music), which consisted of the Elysian String Quartet atmospherically jabbing at the score while being coaxed by a giant pre-recorded conductor on two massive screens. This started out calmly until the on-screen conductor began to cut a more outlandish, sardonic figure. He was being funny. The screen split into many sections with a separate figure in each, the conductor rubbing various body parts as the quartet played in response to his fondlings. Quite an unexpected work, but it went down a storm with the young Brick Lane audience.

Sean O’Hagan’s new string quartet followed that one. There was a very clear, uncluttered logic in this piece, with distinct ideas being given to each instrument. Following directly on from that was a semi-improvised piece between Dutta on piano, O’Hagan on acoustic guitar and the Elysian Quartet. This was where the evening really came alive for me, perhaps because the audience could come to terms with musicians who were actually taking risks on the spot, playing in response to each other and trying out unusual sounds.

A wonderfully mixed bag, and a fertile testing ground for future extravaganzas.

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Blank Canvas @ 93 Feet East, Brick Lane, London