Arts: New Music - New sounds, new visions

THOUGH THE Dutch composer Louis Andriessen has a sonic signature that you can spot within a few seconds, he never writes the same piece twice. You feel that he sweats out each new composition by going back to first principles, re-inventing the form, the tools, the musical language and the orchestra itself.

As Andriessen's career has blossomed, the commissions and orchestras and opportunities have increased, but the instrumental line-ups are rarely conventional, even when he has the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the New London Children's Choir at his disposal, as was the case in the final concert of the Barbican's "Only Connect" series. Friday's event featured the sprightly M is for Man, Music, Mozart, Andriessen's video collaboration with Peter Greenaway, in the first half and De Tijd (Time) in the second, with visuals by Peter Saville, the graphic designer whose sleeve designs (New Order, Pulp etc) dominate the album collections of two generations.

Mozart employed an ensemble playing in loose synchronisation with Greenaway's video of half-dressed and naked dancers and actors writhing, whirling and gurning in an old operating theatre. The graphic devices - the frames, calligraphy and video trickery - recalled A TV Dante and Prospero's Books. The sound was close to that of a jazz big band without drums, with rasping timbres and occasional boogie-woogie while Cristina Zavalloni sang Greenaway lyrics such as: "A phenomenon oiled by blood, made of unequal parts, like a Cellini salt-cellar." The loose synchronisation was, we were told (and like the director's latest film, 81/2 Women), a homage to Fellini.

De Tijd is a slow, virtually static (but clearly difficult) piece for a "large ensemble" - a big children's choir plus more than 50 members of the BBCSO, including eight flautists and nine percussionists. In the pre-concert chat, the composer explained that the piece was commissioned for a student ensemble, so he took the opportunity to write for very large forces. It has had few performances out in the world of professional orchestras.

Short percussive chords erupt across sustained drones: the harmonic and temporal evolution is difficult to grasp because everything moves so slowly. Changes within the different layers of sound are clear but unpredictable. Saville's graphic projection, blurred shapes slowly mutating in form and colour, provided a simple visual analogy, and Peter Mumford's lighting design emphasised the drama generated by the intense concentration of the huge band dreaming Andriessen's ecstatic dreams.

John L Walters

A version of this review appeared in later editions of Saturday's paper