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Posted on Mon 14 Mar
Current world events gave added poignancy to this brilliant evening of music by electro-classical composer and musician Max Richter and his ensemble, which featured two of his most humanitarian, as well as heartfelt, works.
Infra (latin for ‘below’), originally written for ballet, is Richter’s response to the 7/7 bus and subway bombings in London in 2005 and partly inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, while Voices speaks to the importance of global community, and features passages of text from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both pieces would be profoundly moving even if there wasn’t a war going on in Eastern Europe, but the connection was palpable to an audience suitably sombre but also supremely appreciative.
Richter acknowledged the fact by starting the evening with a rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem - performed under yellow and blue lights, the colours of the country’s flag - before settling into a sublime rendition of Infra, accompanied by a hugely talented five-piece string section.
The nine-part piece is designed to reflect a journey - since victims of the attacks were all making one - and is layered with pre-recorded rhythmic loops to provide texture and perhaps the white noise of commuter activity. That element occasionally veered a little close to feedback, but was offset by Richter’s gentle piano motifs and one particularly frenetic - as well as dazzling - section of string playing that I’m guessing was designed to mirror the mayhem of the terror attacks but was beautiful all the same.
The second set Voices was performed by a larger ensemble that incorporated a narrator (Sarah Sutcliffe, reading extracts from the Human Rights document), conductor (Robert Ziegler), choir, solo soprano and solo violin, and again provided a fascinating mix or organic and electronic sounds and instruments, with Richter adding an electronic keyboard to his combination of grand piano and laptop.
This grouping has been called a ‘negative orchestra’, to acknowledge the way its proportions have been switched around (basses and cellos largely dominate, often to fabulous effect), which in turn is to reflect how the world has been turned upside down by a turbulent geopolitical climate. The combination of ethereal vocals, poignant passages of text and beguiling music (by turns magical and mournful, and occasionally both) - as well as the circumstances of the performance - made for a supremely moving recital that captivated an audience that responded with rapturous acclaim and a well-earned standing ovation at the finale. Stunning.
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