Chaos theory

CLASSICAL MUSIC Apartment House Conway Hall [rout] Beaconsfield, London
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The Independent Culture
Last Saturday's three-hour event mounted by the curiously named British group [rout] took place in the whitewashed warehouse space of the equally curiously named Beaconsfield, "a customised 19th-century building in Vauxhall", hard by the railway line, one stop from Waterloo. What attracted a more-than-capacity crowd to this intriguingly mixed programme of avant- garde golden oldies, Louis Andriessen, Giovanni Gabrieli and a whole range of new works by the emerging Britpack it was hard to tell. But there's support behind this "alliance of young British composers, performers and conductors", as a rash of yet further strange names in the elegantly designed programme suggested.

Sound installations by Simon Scardanelli, which appeared to be mimicking the train noises punctuating the concert itself, could be heard in the downstairs bar. Most of those who actually made it upstairs found themselves huddled on the floor; in Parts 2 and 3, players surrounded listeners amidst ever-increasing chaos. A barrage of visual delights, for all their professed links to the composers' efforts, made it even more difficult to concentrate on the music; pieces were usually played in an unbroken sequence. Slowly evolving abstract shapes gaining in figurative suggestion (by Pete Smith) in Part 1 gave way to multiple screens and gnomic texts - by O(rphan)d(rift>) - in Part 2 and, in Part 3, to Dianne Harris's illuminated skeleton holding a large balloon (for more projections, by Hex), whose eyes later spouted real flames several feet long - in such conditions, surely flouting every fire regulation in the book.

Standards of performance, from a wide range of players and conductors, were high. The very talented twentysomething composers, too, are clearly determined to achieve their own approach without abandoning modernist concerns. They can even turn Andriessen's influence - these days pervasive and not always beneficial - to individual account, as Sam Hayden's Bleeding Chunk demonstrated. Paul Newland's AMB [I-V] did some effective things with overlapping single notes and a cosmic eruption of percussion. If a large audience can react with apparent enthusiasm to music like this, things could, after all, get very interesting as we approach the millennium.

At Conway Hall the previous night it was more like business as usual. Apartment House, also a British ensemble, likewise favours a combination of young composers and older modernists - usually lesser-known and freakier, such as the Dane Pelle Gundmundsen-Holmgreen and the German Nicolaus A Huber. Laurence Crane's Weirdi, to the composer's own texts, proved the masterpiece of the evening, delightfully sending up the "anoraks" in the new-music crowd in "New Music Weirdo" and, in "Balanescu" (its first line "I saw Alexander Balanescu in Safeways"), affectionately celebrating this leading violinist with wit and perfect timing.

Melanie Pappenheim sang with appropriately pure tone and clear diction, and concluded the programme with 10 Eisler songs. These, in particular, would have benefited from more eye-contact with her audience and a securer lower register, but were otherwise a convincing demonstration that this music can be conveyed by lighter voices than those of many cabaret singers.