Review: Vale of Glamorgan Festival – Grand Band @ St David’s Hall

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Vale of Glamorgan Festival – Grand Band
St David’s Hall
Tuesday 23rd May 2017

I have been absent from the Vale of Glamorgan Festival for a few years. This eternal celebration of living composers always throws a curveball and is keen to have heard the varied and striking compositions being created today and also old work from the elders.

The promise of six grand pianos at Saint David’s Hall sounds like an event not to shake a stick at. Grand Band are a selection of pianists who collaborate together and bringing to live the joy of all types minimalism in music. The creative dynamic between them is engaging, the pianos being their clay to mould in a mellifluous musical experience. Screens above each pianists allowed us to see their hands in operation, though perhaps the hands of the player on the other side could have added to the multi angular experience.

Composer Paul Kerekes, who is also one of the players presented wither and bloom, a piece which delicately passes the notes to each each musicians in such a sobering way. Philip Glass’ Closing is standard, therefore the version for six pianos adds moments of reflections and has the famous scales and repeated pattern Glass is famous for.

Ben Wallace got a world premier of his outrageously named Fryderyk Chopin’s Psychedelic Technicolor ‘lectro-Funk-Core Superstar lit Ultra-Throwdown on Op. 28 No. 4. Whilst a name like that may hark back to Satie, the influence lies in the name of Chopin. In a pre show talk, Wallace expressed how he thought Chopin was overrated (I would agree). Here he brings to life a vision of the Polish composer as a DJ in a club, with strobes, smoke et al. This is a lively piece with much humour and it felt like the physical manifestation of MIDI software, or the piano heard on a computer pushed to the extremities of the instrument, that a human could conventionally not be able to play.

face so pale by David Lang was both beautiful and demanding. Inspired by medieval masses, Lang slows down the notes and creates a type of minimalism that he is making his own. There is grace and contemplation here, such is the impact of all of Lang’s endeavours. Festival founder John Metcalf’s Never Odd or Even (these words are a palindrome) was passable minimalism, perhaps proving that the American inventors do it better.

The night ended with a classic Six Pianos by Steve Reich. Whilst the overlapping layering of the musical patterns becomes hypotonic, you feel it could go on for eternity. Though the piece could easily be half the length. It has that chirpy and vibrancy that only Reich could create.

Although St David’s should be applauded for having six pianos on stage, I feel a more intimate venue would add to the experience greatly. Perhaps it was because I was in the last but back row of the stalls that at times it was too quiet to truly appreciate this rare cultural occurrence.

The grandest of bands. 

Rating: 4 stars

The Vale of Glamorgan Festival will return in 2018.

Photo Credit: Chris McGuire


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