Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The South Bank Show Awards - The Dorchester

Odd. I've spent the last year wondering what the hell I'm going to do post South Bank Show and here I am at the Dorchester rubbing shoulders with the great and good as if nothing has happened. I sat next to trumpeter extraordinaire, Alison Balsom who was presenting the classical music award. Surely she should have been receiving a gong for her excellent recording of the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concertos, not giving one away. In the event, the squiggly trophy went to the CBSO and Halle for their joint Nielsen season. Mark Elder made some lovely comments about the SBS which was very gracious of him considering Melvyn had turned down the chance to make a programme about his sterling work to revitalise the Halle. Most annoying moment: Elaine Page getting the giggles during David Alden's acceptance speech for ENO's Peter Grimes. He did go on a bit though. Overall a great ceremony, David Attenborough sent Melvyn off with a well earned Lifetime Achievement Award. Standing ovations, tears and, and as Melvyn would say, that's that. The end of a wonderful era.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Nico Muhly - Roundhouse

Nico Muhly appears on stage in a flash. He wants to get on with things. Dressed in various layers of black, slightly at odds with his sunny disposition, he launches into Philip Glass's solo piano piece Mad Rush. Clearly included as a nod of respect to his one time teacher, it's a less than enthralling start to a concert by America's new composing wunderkind. Fortunately things pick-up significantly with the arrival of vocalist and guitarist Sam Amidon, one of many non-classical artists Muhly has worked with of late. And a great combination this has turned out to be. While Amidon sings his folky songs, Muhly's imagination is given full reign with his orchestral backdrops (complete with sinister sound effects) that never overwhelm but change the colour and drama of what's being sung by stealth. It's almost hallucinogenic in its effect.

The concert concluded with Steve Reich's City Life which sounded a little pedestrian by comparison. But it soon found its noisy New York groove, serving as a useful reminder the debt the promising Muhly owes to the elder statesman of American music.

The Roundhouse is used for the BBC's Electric Proms. How about using it for the Proms proper? As was clearly demonstrated last night, there is a large and mostly young crowd out there with broad tastes who like new music and ideas for the sake of it. Maybe the Proms should think of ways to cater for this audience who thankfully don't seem to have hang-ups about music categorisation.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Stroman/Jonsson - Vortex

Scott Stroman is a musician with fingers in many pies. Tonight he was the vocalist in a band he co-leads with his long-term musical partner, saxophonist Cennet Jonsson. Joined by instrumentalists from Hungary, the US, Ireland and, er Highbury (Stroman), he treated the select audience at the Vortex to a collection of works (well I can't really call them songs) from his new album Project 2. This rather clinical title doesn't do justice to the warmth exuded by the assembled musicians, spearheaded by Jonsson's soprano sax and Zoltan Lantos' fiddle. Their breathtaking unity of sound was underpinned by Stroman's gentle scat singing which, whether intended or not, was a useful brake on anything too outlandish and impenetrable. The highlight of the evening was Stroman's composition, Homeless, its desolate quality perfectly capturing the cold and slushy view of Gillett Square as seen from the comfort of the Vortex.