Review: American Chamber Series – Contemporary Soundscapes @ Royal College of Music, London

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American Chamber Series – Contemporary Soundscapes
Recital Hall, Royal College of Music, London
Tuesday 14th February 2017

The London’s own Royal College of Music has been celebrating all things American (best time for it, really). This extensive festival began with renowned composer David Lang giving a free masterclass and concert, to my utter dismay I missed them.

In an attempt to not miss this great season, I made it to London to catch the Contemporary Soundscapes concert. Featuring a variety of the College’s students, this intimate, yet elaborate concert was a super experience.

Beginning with the eternal Meredith Monk, her Ellis Island for two pianos is a miniature, minimalist gem. Her inspiration following this theme of immigration to America rings home and the music paints a brief, but telling thematic mood to commence the evening. Other composers such as Joan Tower and Nico Murphy seem to have nice ideas, but lack a real punch.

Elliot Carter lived to the staggering age of 103 (he passed away back in 2012). He never stopped writing and not many composers can have the honour of such a fruitful life and career. His Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for wind quartet is a cheeky, rambunctious and pleasurable sonic experience. You get flickers of Stravinsky, but Carter who was always the game changer, puts his stamp in every remarkable movement of this fanatic piece.

John Luther Adams (not to be confused with fellow American composer John Adams) certainly likes to push the boundaries of his music. Written for piano, his Among Red Mountains could only be described as an unrelenting megalith of tone clusters. Although lacking in much variety, it would leave American music pioneers Charles Ives and Henry Cowell very pleased. It’s attacks on the piano left eyes bulging and mouths dropped to the floor. Hear for yourself:

You might think with a name like Dream of the Canyon Wren, Adams would indulge us in some pastoral relief. No. Here, a string quartet created a wonderfully bizarre sound world. The two violins attempting to recreate what’s sounds like good old American folk tunes, but are so shrill, spines are chilled to the bone. It’s another intense and unforgettable piece.

We would be granted peace in the final work of the night, again by Adams. Strictly nothing like the previous two pieces, The Farthest Place is a liquid dream of simple charms. Using vibraphone, marimba, violin, double bass and piano, the serene ambient playing of the students is complemented by the composer’s wish to have all lights in the venue turned off. This worked very well, as the space between us and the musicians is banished and we could end the night in state of otherworldly bliss.

Ambitious & enlightening State side sounds.

Rating: 4 stars

Picture Source: RCM Website

Royal College of Music continues their celebration of American music in America Calls! Featuring a free all day keyboard marathon To the New World on Sunday 12th March 2017 and other events.

An extended performance of Satie’s Vexations takes place around Cardiff in 2017, as a fundraiser for OCD UK, with such venues as the Wales Millennium Centre and Llanishen Parish Church as locations (more to be confirmed). We also need more musicians, venues, electronics artists, rap artists and artists in all fields to help to complete the piece. Follow #CardiffVexations & @weepingtudor on social media to see more! 


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