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Fun & games with the London Sinfonietta, in a concert filled with the rarely heard music of Mauricio Kagel

Turning Points: Kagel

London Sinfonietta & students from the University of Sussex, , , Kings Place , February 1, 2020
Turning Points: Kagel by  London Sinfonietta & students from the University of Sussex, , How can music mingle with theatre? More importantly, how can musicians become actors? These are some of the fundamental questions that the Argentine-German composer Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) proposed to audiences. With the gun-ho attitude from the London Sinfonietta, we had a stellar line up of pieces performed in both halls of Kings Place. Thankfully, these at times opaque pieces were kissed with plenty of humour, a kind which has a universal charm that this London audience could lap up quite easily.

There was a lot performed on the night, so I’d like to do a brief summary of each part of the programme:

Présentation: A witty, Dada like treat for actor and pianist. Relentless playing from the piano, coupled with the frantic fuss of the actor, results in a piece filled with expectation. Tim Hopkins made for many laughs, dry and absurd as it should be. His time spent in a dress was amusing and the dynamic between both performers demonstrated how people behave on stage and how someone in the wings can behave (the soprano who never arrives evokes Beckett). A super way to start proceedings and the actor role is something I would be keen to try out in the future.

Atem (Breath): Stuart Beard shone here with his tuba, arriving on stage in dressing gown and slippers, resting on a sofa. Here the tuba delivers some outstanding timbres and sonorities, some who which you’d never expect to hear from his forgotten about and often mocked instrument. A moment when Bear fellated the mouthpiece of his tuba is one shock moment, with moaning and screeching other delights.

A Deux Mains: Fali Pavri retuned on piano to play this brief work. This stuck out, being the only experience which did not feature any dramatic elements, solely just the music. Some appealing ideas are expressed, but I didn’t find it grabbed me as much as it should have.

Mirum (surprise): Beard got to show off his tuba more in another dazzling display of virtuosity. The blast of noise rang out throughout the hall, proving the grand acoustics Kings Place is blessed with. His ending with a duologue between him and the tuba (he spoke both roles) had me chuckling, his departure being a slow walk across the stage. This is a brass player who owns his instrument and is happy to show it off.

Match: A firm favourite from the night. This sees two cellists and a percussionist play, trying to find ways to make their trio-ship work. Inspired by a dream Kagel once had, he envisioned two cellist as tennis players with the percussionist as the umpire. This remains an inspired idea for performance, as the relationship between the three players was funny, despondent and brilliant.
Fali Pavri and Tim Gill make the cello do all sorts here, their acting also quite rounded. Though it was percussionist David Hockings who stole the show and had me in bouts of uproarious laughter as the forceful parental like figure. His gesturing to both cellist who don’t respond, messing around with his flexatone or getting good use out of the castanets that all stood out (can’t say I’ve ever heard them used on a marimba before). His comic timing is as good as his musical timing, that much is evident. An absolute corker of a piece.

Antithese: Film work from 1965. Playing with the idea of an apparent engineer or experiment subject who fiddles about and is perhaps engulfed by his huge panels of electronics and other bric-a-brac. Some satisfying ideas which went on slightly too long, the new rendition of the electronic score adds well to things. The ending become over the top and near overwhelming, this short film’s finest moments.

Furst Igor, Strawinsky: First performed on the small island in Venice where Stravinsky (note the spelling in the name of the piece) is buried, this was a fine way to end the night. Beard and Hockings returned, with new musicians under the keen eye of Jack Sheen. Here bass Jimmy Holliday had ecstatic, elemental qualities, the crowing achievement of the work. His gesticulation and swaying were witnessed, adding to the depth of the score. Observations about death in this tribute to Stravinsky, are finely crafted into this odd work for random instruments. The ending saw a Christ-like actor emerge, banging on a plank of wood, as Holliday turned his back on him. Powerful stuff.

Prior to the concert and in the intervals were some new work by students from the University of Sussex (Meditation on Kagel). I was delighted by their efforts, as it had a sort of children’s TVs show charm (antics on the escalator with a human xylophone was delightful), with the performers knelling behind white boards on the floor. An joyful feeling of musicianship was evident, with players raising their instruments to show them emerging from the over side of the board. We then heard German and Spanish and the work just sort of ended. Though the maraca in a performers crack of her jeans remained an image to never forget. The student showing placards introducing each piece (each number of the work had the same amount of images of Kagel himself), finally got some justifiable applause at the end of the night, with his swift stride and adorable nature.

This proved to be the perfect introduction to this amusing and clever composer. Perhaps another Kagel concert for good measure?

The London Sinfonietta continue their Turning Points season at Kings Place, with a celebration of the music of Tōru Takemitsu on 26th April 2020.

Rating: 4 stars

Photo Credit: London Sinfonietta Website

Reviewed by: James Ellis

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