Labyrinth at 'The Space'
Last Thursday evening I found myself wandering along Westferry Road in The Isle of Dogs en route to The Space, an arts and community centre run by St. Paul's Arts trust and which hosts a huge variety of local talent, big names such as Harry Hill and Ian McKellen, and for the night in question, a piano, violin and clarinet who specialise in music from the twentieth century and beyond.
The venue lies in the shadow of No.1, Canada Square and its smaller siblings yet the area was in incredibly quiet for an early Thursday evening bar the obligatory fireworks going off all around me (some a little too close for comfort). I almost walked past it, despite seeing the sign and found myself facing what look like a run-down church conversion, seemingly shut-up and so I wandered down the side of the building towards an empty beer garden and a small door advertising the 'Hubbub' café and went in.
The café is found up a small flight of stairs and is fairly pleasant, with a wooden floor, wooden tables, some very average paintings on the walls, but which serves one of the best burgers I've had in a long time. The Guinness was appalling though, but this could have been due to the fact that they served it in a Magners glass, which just isn't right at all.
Anyway, I digress as per usual.
The main performance area is nice and cosy, and was set up with several small, candlelit round tables for the audience. There was little, if no, soundproofing unfortunately, and so the fireworks made some unwelcome intrusions, as did the 'noises off' from other parts of the centre.
The original plan for the concert was, as I have mentioned, a performance of modern trios, including work by Nick Williams, Luke Styles and a special arrangement of 'A Soldier's Tale' by Stravinsky. As with all the best plans however, things changed rather dramatically when the pianist, Sophia Russell, contracted suspected swine 'flu and so, instead of cancelling, the programme was rearranged at short notice and the remaining two-thirds of the trio performed for the smallish but highly appreciative audience instead.
The evening consisted of four highly contrasting modern solo works, performed by the Canadian clarinetist, Heather Roche, interspersed, perhaps surprisingly, by two of the movements from Bach's D minor Partita for solo violin (Elena Jáuregui).
'Sonorous Body', a work from 2008 by the Australian composer Liza Lim is a hugely complex piece based on fragments taken from her opera 'The Navigator'. Having had a look at the score, it certainly takes some skill in navigating your way through , let alone managing to cope with the extreme rhythmic and dynamic challenges posed for the performer. Roche was well up to the task and made a convincing case for the piece, which I felt lacked much of an emotional punch, certainly compared to the others in the programme.
As an 'Interlude', from the darkness (and clutter) of the balcony behind the audience, Elena Jáuregui played the Allemande from Bach's D minor Partita. Despite the almost incongruous nature of this music compared to what else was on offer it fitted in rather well, much like a glass of spring water following a shot of single malt. Jáuregui's playing was smooth and introspective and the relative lack of vibrato, together with a steady tempo made Bach's musical lines flow naturally through the lively acoustic of the venue.
'Open 2', by Bryn Harrison is an interesting contemporary work, in that it's actually quite easy to make connections between the various motifs employed throughout, and so you feel you can see the wood despite the trees. Here, there are (apparently) just 5 pitches used throughout, but with Harrison's inventiveness with melodic and rhythmic structure the listener's interest is held until the end.
Giacinto Scelsi's work 'Preghiera per un ombra' was written in 1954 following the death of a good friend. It is an intense and passionate piece, which Roche played with great skill and fervour. With very little let-up, it was an appropriate work with which to complete the first half of the concert.
Following the interval, Salvatore Sciarrino's 'Let me die before I wake' (1982) continued the 'theme' from beforehand, in that it was composed for a friend who was in a coma. You are immediately caught up in a world of nerve-jangling high pitches and sudden sliences that reflect the emptiness of how we may imagine being in a comatose state, and I was particularly impressed by the techniques used to achieve these sounds.
The second 'Interlude' arrived, and Elena Jáuregui now played the Sarabande from the same Partita. Being a fiddle player myself, I know how hard these works are to perform, even to an average standard, but here it all sounded easy, and was a delight to listen to. Taken at a more steady tempo than many perform this piece, the music was allowed to breathe more easily and even the extraneous noises became less noticeable as Jáuregui continued to weave Bach's spell.
The final piece in the programme, Georges Aperghis's '280 mesures' is an extraordinary work, that easily competed with anything the fireworks were trying to throw up outside. Based on several catchy and well-developed ideas, Heather Roche played out of her skin (and her killer shoes - which were ditched in the interval) to deliver a great finale. Particularly impressive were the slow, descending glissandi, the sudden, explosive 'sneezes' (difficult to describe in any other way) and the switching between fast scalic passages on the clarinet and the vocalisation of the same passages...while still playing the clarinet of course.
You couldn't help but smile at some of the effects used, but then you also couldn't help but smile at the skill, musicality, and sheer stamina on show in producing such a great concert. The contemporary clarinet world hasn't much to worry about when it is championed by somone like Heather Roche, and when the full complement of the Labyrinth Trio get together, I imagine things will only get better.
They are next 'on show' at 'The Forge' (between Camden Town and Mornington Crescent stations) at 7.00pm on December 3rd. For those who are willing to open their ears to unfamiliar sounds, it would be well worth a trip, and at least I'll be able to hear the Stravinsky!