Classical and Opera Reviews

Spectral Festival: Dumitrescu/Avram/Hyperion Ensemble @ LSO St Luke’s, London

20 November 2011


Billed as an evening of spectral music, I was expecting serious, intellectual performances of cutting-edge sound-scapes, but unfortunately most of the music was shallow.

Iancu Dumitrescu created the Hyperion Ensemble in 1976 to perform his own works. A valiant endeavour to push forward music far too complex for other ensembles to perform? Or a massive vanity mission to project his aura across vast continents?

Dumitrescu has an amazing air of self-importance, glowering at the audience, and giving them plenty of time to absorb his carefully chosen mad genius uniform. He looks like an ancient version of Nick Cave, with shades of Liberace.

The first piece Micro and Macroscopic Eruption was a master class in narcissism. The composer/conductor flaps his arms about like a Kenny Everett parody to indicate how the ensemble should play (their scores being a collection of fragmentary, un-formed ideas) bearing minimal correlation, as the ensemble failed to interpret his gestures and often opted to sit in silence. Small, tentative waggles of the fingers produced hushed, (if not quite delicate) moments while grandiose, sweeping gestures produced loud cacophonous climaxes. Those were the only two facets of the music. Dumitrescus pose and attitude may have been supremely irritating, but the lack of interesting music was just a waste of resources. Its a very large ensemble three percussionists, a plethora of strings, woodwind and brass, electric guitar (using a bow, of course), and a pianist who doubles on flute. Sadly there was no exploration of sound, no juxtaposed textures, no sense of drama, no real beauty, not even real ugliness- just an unpleasant fog of interminable tedium.

The second piece of the night was Orbit of Eternal Grace by Ana-Maria Avram. She used the same hand-flap method as Dumitrescu to get her point across to the musicians, but with far more interesting results. Here there were actual relationships between each constituent part of the ensemble, intended or not. Two bass clarinets fought it out among controlled and detailed commentary from the strings and percussion, providing a context and an ambience of its own. At times Avrams hand gestures were misunderstood and she had to whisper her intentions to the performers, but this only heightened the drama, and the piece was an intelligent, sensitive work.

Then, out of the blue, was a SECOND performance of Dumetrescus Micro and Macroscopic Eruption, evidently intended to show that this single score could produce an amazing variety of music. It didnt.

Accompanying the ensemble were pre-recorded electronic spectral sounds. Spectralism, for the uninitiated, is a new(ish) genre of music that usually focuses on timbre as the defining aspect, taking the place of form, melody, rhythm or any other old-fashioned trait. Instead of that all we had was a generic globule of electronic noises from the Seventies; apparently garnered from a particularly atmospheric episode of Doctor Who.

A second piece from Avram was very welcome. Un Raggio Ardente was a veiled homage to Lachenmann (without the vital intensity, or subtlety of the German master) relying less on the talents and abilities of individual performers, and suffering slightly as a result.

There was a final piece from Dumitrescu (all the works were World Premieres), sounding for all the world like his previous two attempts.



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