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Music at London Colleges - 18th/19th March 2010

A week that has seen the BBC and The Barbican deciding that they won't continue to commission reviews of their major orchestral concerts, including The Proms, from "websites and bloggers" that can't establish commercial credibility with "verifiable statistics", has had us looking at other music providers deserving our attention in accord with Musical Pointers' mission statement.

Trinity College of Music has been holding a Bartok festival through the week, culminating with a concert in which their Symphony Orchestra gave three Concertos, for Violin, Piano and the Concerto for Orchestra. Outstanding was Mikhael Shilyaev in the 3rd Piano Concerto, an account of commanding authority which had a packed Great Hall at Blackheath spell-bound, especially in the choral-like passages in the second movement which were played with quiet intensity, the chords voiced to perfection and creating a spell of concentration. No lack of bravura and virtuosity in the more dramatic sections; a performance of real stature to put against memories of fully professional performances from a young pianist whose progress we have followed since he won the Ricci Foundation Award four years ago.

The next day had us attend three events at the Royal Academy of Music and at Goldsmith's College, which demonstrated the riches available to the public, almost on a daily basis, within our teaching establishments.

To give the last first, and avoid anticlimax, Goldsmith's Contemporary Music Ensemble's concert of Stockhausen, Cage and Andriessen, attractive in prospect, was less successful in delivery, partly because of inadequate presentation.

Roger Redgate brought no intensity into conducting his students' efforts. The notes supplied about the structures of Adieu (1966), Seven (1988) and Worker's Union (1975) suggested interesting possibilities, but Stockhausen's & Cage's indeterminate pieces needed introductions with examples to make them intelligible to an audience. * And to put over Louis Andriessen's musico/political tract required players "with such an intention that his part is an essential one for the work to succeed" [L.A.]

Those at Goldsmiths were facially and in body movement expressionless, laid back to the point of seeming disinterested - c.f e.g. the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in concert ! - and at the beginning and near the end the Andriessen was so dominated by drum as to leave the other musicians playing away practically inaudibly...

The Royal Academy of Music can probably claim the crown. Its Events Listing (many free, others inexpensive) is worth everyone's attention; visitors are really made to feel welcome. Yesterday it was difficult to apportion time between string quartet coaching by the great Czech Skampa Quartet and a sharing of cutting edge research upstairs in the Piano Gallery.

The Skampas (usually two teaching and demonstrating hands-on, the others sitting behind and adding occasional comments) were unsparing in seeking maximum intensity matched with contrast in Ravel's quartet finale, transforming an already rather good account of it to an altogether higher level. With a less advanced group, they helped to develop an account of the lesser known Britten Quartettino into which they were feeling their way.

But for most of the afternoon I was upstairs for a quite extraordinary cutting edge presentation of "microtiming" research addressing Martha Argerich's recorded performance of a Chopin prelude, analysed with the newest technology, to perhaps reach a deeper understanding of rubato...

Curated by Neil Heyde, the discussions were wide ranging and fascinating, and performances by Mark Knoop and the Kreutzer Quartet of excerpts from resulting compositions by Richard Beaudoin were enthralling; slowed down recompositions Chopin desséché and Flutter echoes were beautiful and moving, bringing to mind such heterogeneous musics as the Goldberg 25th Variation, Beethoven's Op 132 molto adagio and Feldman, to suggest a few.

Absolutely not to be missed, a presentation of Disintegrate, Degenerate, Decompose curated by Mark Knoop at Kings Place, 17 May will set some of Beaudoin’s new works against Feldman's For Bunita Marcus.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Comment received: - - that's a problem with University Concerts - - the numbers of 'public audience' so small as to be almost negligible, as opposed to those connected directly with the College and the music department - - - - a shame, though, that when audience members from outside the college attend these things that they don't feel things have been opened up for them...
The conservatories are far more accustomed to dealing with a public audience - - they have become better at presenting that public face.