Classical: A near-perfect landing
Wednesday 02 December 1998
THE 21ST Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival concluded on Sunday with Steve Reich and Beryl Korot's Hindenburg. Drawing on images of German general who gave his name to the infamous zeppelin, an unfinished version was seen at the Barbican a year ago. This was the British premiere of the complete, half-hour piece; though it is just the first act of a "documentary video opera" entitled Three Tales, the two subsequent acts of which promise more direct confrontation with the trilogy's underlying "debate about the physical, ethical, religious and spiritual nature of... expanding technological development".
With a certain irony, Three Tales takes advantage of recent advances in video technology to manipulate archival footage on a single screen in highly malleable ways. Though strictly speaking a "concert performance" - lacking the rudimentary staging included at the Barbican - what we saw in Huddersfield provided more than sufficient to engage both eye and ear.
Korot's deft and individual deployment of the remarkable results of her archival researches and Reich's long-familiar ability to conjure real contrapuntal drama out of simple materials activated by rhythmic repetition complement each other perfectly to produce results that are compelling both on a moment-to-moment level and as an unfolding structure. In the first of the new scenes, for example, "Nibelung Zeppelin", footage of the airship under construction is accompanied by music based on the Anvil motif from Wagner's Das Rheingold: a response still surprising from a composer originally renowned (if not entirely accurately) for his avoidance of such emotive references. The effect of this allusion was appropriately disturbing, its amusement value caught in a sinister light enhanced by the lowering presence of a deep dominant pedal point.
As a whole, Hindenburg retains a degree of narrative thread to which Reich's music responds with impressively cumulative effect, though - perhaps understandably, given its function in the complete work to come - it seems to stop abruptly rather than conclude matters. The one aberration aside, all the performances in this all-Reich Town Hall programme - the lion's share taken by Ensemble Bash, and the conductor Nichola s Kok - were excellent.
In the course of the final weekend of what by all accounts has been a notably successful festival this year, I also particularly admired Music Theatre Wales' production of Harrison Birtwistle's Punch and Judy, already seen elsewhere, and Richard Casey and Nicolas Hodges' noble assault on an alarmingly varied sequence of compositions for two pianists. This included the European premiere of John Adams' Hallelujah Junction, a substantial 15-minute piece, the contrapuntal virtuosity and emotional complexity of which restored my faith in this composer after the disappointment of his recent piano concerto.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 10 ways we damage our teeth – without realising
- 2 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 3 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
- 4 Photo of wedding guest proposing to girlfriend in front of bride and groom goes viral
- 5 Charlie Charlie Challenge explained: it's just gravity — not a Mexican demon being summoned
Royal Academy of Arts' Tim Marlow: Bronze statue of lovers embracing at St Pancras station is a lesson in 'how not to do' public art
Britain's Hardest Grafter: Petition set up as Twitter reacts to BBC 'poverty porn' series pitting low-paid workers against each other
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
ASAP Rocky gives nauseating response to explicit Rita Ora rap: 'I'm not saying she's a terrible person'
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'