Steinway Hall, London

Classical review: The Memory of WT Stead - I've got that sinking feeling …


Five pianos went down with the 'Titanic' – a century later, Cassie Yukawa imagines we can hear them still

When RMS Titanic sank in 1912, five Steinway pianos went down with her: two Model K uprights, two Model R uprights and one Model B drawing room grand, their brass feet bolted to the decks. Did they creak and sigh as they went down? Did the glue soften over the following days, weeks, years? Did the hammers float soundlessly up, the iron frame sink deeper into darkness? Inspired by the para-psychological writings of a journalist who died in the disaster, Lundahl&Seitl's participatory installation with pianist Cassie Yukawa in Steinway's piano showroom, The Memory of W T Stead, blots out light and everyday sound, sharpening one's ears for the blissful logic of a Bach fugue and the dreamy peregrinations of Ligeti's Pour Irina in a series of fragments and whispers.

More than 2,000 mourners attended Stead's memorial service, which began with his favourite hymn, "Begone, unbelief!". The Memory of ... can accommodate only six people at each performance – more a sensory journey – but "Begone, unbelief!" is still a useful maxim as you sit at a piano, put on wireless headphones and submit to the grip of light-excluding goggles. All you have to anchor you now are the crisp injunctions of an elderly male voice, the groan of wet wood, faint shreds of Bach and a series of unseen hands guiding your steps as you slowly and blindly pass through the building, brushing the exposed mechanism of an instrument with your fingers, its hammers like vertebrae. The voice in your ears is not that of Stead the reformer, the campaigner, the muckraker, but Stead the short-story writer, who wrote about an imaginary maritime disaster years before the Titanic, Stead the spiritualist, perhaps even Stead the dead, who dictated The Blue Island to a medium from "beyond the veil".

If Steinway Hall is heaven, heaven is remarkably well-insulated and nicely carpeted. After 40 minutes of convalescent docility, sometimes gazing at highlighted objects or figures, mostly in darkness, like a sort of enhanced solitude, suddenly finding oneself just an arm's length from Yukawa as she begins to play feels almost transgressive. I would have preferred my Bach served straight, without the glacé cherry, cocktail umbrella and indoor sparkler fixings that Liszt brings to his transcriptions. But for the opening bars of that fugue, the dazed beauty of Pour Irina, and the strangeness of being so very close to a pianist, it was worth a few extraneous double-octaves.

Though immaculately choreographed, The Memory of ... feels too careful of its human cargo, too serene, too uninquisitive, but the musical performance at its heart is raw and hyper-expressive, untidily and unguardedly moving.

Freighted with violence and grace, political anger and personal grief, The Gospel According to the Other Mary (Barbican Hall, London ****)is the companion piece to John Adams's nativity oratorio, El Niño. Twelve years separate the two works, both settings of texts assembled by Peter Sellars, both vivid in their attempts to voice the female experience, both occasionally syntactically baffling. Where El Niño dug hard into the quickening of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth, drawing parallels between the Slaughter of the Innocents and the 1968 Tlatelolco Square massacre in Mexico, The Gospel ... ricochets between the quasi-sexual ecstasy of Hildegard of Bingen's visions and the contemporary misery and fright of drug abuse, self-harm and prostitution. Centrepiece of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Barbican residency with Gustavo Dudamel, the European premiere was exhilarating, enchanting and sometimes infuriating – semi-staged by Sellars in a performance of outstanding physicality, emotional commitment and technical virtuosity.

To the blistering strings, Latin brass, squalling saxophone and keening oboe of El Niño, Adams has added Mahlerian details for double bass and clarinet, plashing Debussian trills, a frosting of cimbalom, a shiver of mandolin, the brute twang of an electric guitar. Exquisite solos for flute and viola curl up out of nowhere, tender and green, tailor made for the LA Phil.

Mary (Kelley O'Connor) is a fragile, passionate conflation of two characters: the ex-prostitute Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany, whose wiping of Christ's feet with expensive oils outrages her stern sister Martha (Tamara Mumford). A chaste trio of countertenors (Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Nathan Medley) narrates, tenor Russell Thomas is the rebellious heart of the drama, voicing Lazarus and, sometimes, Christ, while the Los Angeles Master Chorale sing searing choruses of protest. Crucial to this performance were the three dancers, Michael Schumacher, Anani Sanouvi and Troy Ogilvie, the last especially touching.

As with El Niño, which I thought silly on first hearing, before I grew to love and respect it, The Gospel According to the Other Mary needs to be heard more than once. But the modest women's uniform of the Christian community – hair, arms and legs covered with sweatshirting or curtain-fabric florals – seemed to me to be every bit as repressive as the hooker-heels and G-strings that poor, sweet, ruined Mary had left behind.

'The Memory of WT Stead' runs till 6 Apr (

Critic's Choice

Exaudi, Christian Curnyn, Concerto Caledonia, London Voices and La Nuova Musica explore the music of Britten and Purcell in Aldeburgh's Easter Weekend concerts in Orford, Blythburgh and Snape, Suffolk, from Friday. Daniele Abbado's new production of Nabucco opens at the Royal Opera House, London, from Saturday, with Nicola Luisotti conducting.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells