Classical: Space for conviviality

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The Independent Culture
AT THE Space, on West Ferry Road in the south-western reaches of the Isle of Dogs (the nearest train stop is Mudchute, or will be again once they reopen it), Robert Richardson has been responsible for converting a former Scottish Presbyterian Chapel into a small arts centre. For the last three years this has had a regular programme of exhibitions, films and musical activities with special emphasis on jazz; next season offers all Beethoven's string quartets.

With its white walls, small balcony and stage barely big enough for the two somewhat ill-tuned pianos, The Space is a congenial, surprisingly quiet place with clear acoustics. On Saturday, for Graham Fitkin's concert (one of very few events in the 1999 Greenwich and Docklands Festival to include new music), the audience sat at tables and enjoyed a convivial, informal evening of this lively English minimalist's compositions, mainly for one or two pianos, involving two, four and sometimes eight hands.

The composer himself played his new solo pieces, H1-6: short, simple offerings, each focusing on a single pitch. Some are rather melancholy, others more assertive; all make subtle play with their materials and most are spiced with some nice chromatic surprises. Stephen De Pledge performed the difficult Furniture, a sort of wild Romantic boogie; the excellent saxophonist Simon Haram played soprano in the ambiguously titled Hard Fairy. I particularly warmed to the imaginatively contrapuntal, energetically dissonant four works for eight hands from the late Eighties - Flak, The Great Weight, Untitled 11 and Sciosophy - in which Malcolm Rycraft and Ruth Wall joined a talented team of pianists. Fitkin is among the liveliest and most sheerly enjoyable of British composers working today.

As is Thomas Ades, whose Portrait concert with members of the Composers Ensemble concluded Hoxton's activities the following night. This engaging evening was devoted more to his personal enthusiasms than to his own compositions: Francois Couperin, delightfully arranged (but astonishingly deranged in his own Sonata da Caccia for oboe, horn and harpsichord, an awkward trio that Ades magically makes sound lucidly natural), the subversive craziness of Niccol Castiglioni, a riveting performance of Faure's Piano Trio.

While Ades' multi-faceted persona currently bestrides the new-music scene, the now 50-year-old Peter Wiegold is a formerly familiar presence who seemed to have moved away from composing altogether. In another Composers Ensemble programme late on Friday, his *Earth, receiving an honoured guest* proved a powerful experience. Its keening cor anglais is offset by the vigorous assertions of a string trio; the whole experience gained in atmosphere from Jane Heather's spotlit banners suspended from the ceiling, which bore inscriptions from the Auden in memoriam poem to WB Yeats, the subject matter of which paralleled Wiegold's music. Festivals need the crowds which people like Ades bring in their wake. But they are perhaps most valuable of all for experiences like the one just a few of us had last Friday night.