Saturday 25 October 2014

The Elysian Quartet in Liverpool

Everyone living outside London is not exactly being regaled with top class culture events. Exciting new productions in theatre, classical music or dance tend to gravitate to the capital. That's where the money and the audiences are. 

However, Cardiff is blessed with an opera house and an adjacent concert hall (the Hoddinott Hall) with fantastic acoustics and daring and enterprising guest conductors. So, if you wanted to hear contemporary classical music, chances are you may get lucky at Cardiff's Hoddinott Hall with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jac van Steen.

Matters are different in my temporary abode, Liverpool. The city has gone from a buzzing metropolis to a third rank city within the last three decades and its cultural life is not much better. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has temporarily de-camped to no one knows where, as its venue is being re-vamped. And, admittedly, its repertoire under Vasili Petrenko is more of the conventional fare type. 

However, from time to time, something exciting comes along even in Liverpool and that was the case last night at the Victoria Museum. The Elysian Quartet played in the Leggate Theatre (of which later) and bravely performed only contemporary music as part of the Festival of New Music organised by the Liverpool School of Music. 

The Elysian Quartet

They started with Stravinsky's 'Three pieces for string quartet' which is a difficult one and requires a perfect venue. The Leggate Hall is sadly not of that calibre with traffic noise coming in from the street. I think at times I have even heard the beeping of a pedestrian crossing, which must still be the most annoying feature of British public spaces. 

Yet, after the Stravinsky the Elysian Quartet had a real treat in store for the audience: a piece by Pauline Oliveros. Oliveros is known for her concept of 'deep listening' and the quartet delivered something oscillating between elation and profundity. That was followed by a famous piece by Steve Reich, 'Different Trains', which, given the difficulty of playing alongside a taped recording was delivered beautifully and with verve. 

If I have a reservation then it may be that the amplification was sometimes not well suited for the charming, yet acoustically echo-y hall, something that prevents the instruments to shine individually. Still, the evening was a joy to attend and it makes you wonder how stunning this could have been if performed at the Hoddinott Hall. Well, you cant have everything, I guess. 

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