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De Staat, Multi-Story Orchestra, review: Extremely and unremittingly loud

Performed in a multi-storey car park in Peckham

The first time I heard a piece by Louis Andriessen, I watched an audience of classical musicians flee to the exit, terrified that the deafening volume would permanently damage their hearing.

Under Christopher Stark’s direction, the Multi-Story Orchestra’s performance of his now-classic De Staat was merely extremely - and unremittingly - loud.

As a card-carrying member of the hard-core avant garde who refuses to write for conventional symphony orchestras, Andriessen has provided a typically posturing rationale for this work. It’s ‘a contribution to the debate about the relation of music to politics’; he both takes issue with Plato (De Staat is Dutch for The Republic), and wishes he could believe in Plato’s belief that music can change society.

The performance took place – where else? – in a multi-storey car park, whose raw concrete shell proved perfectly appropriate to this assault on our eardrums.

But a carefully planned assault, starting with an oboe fanfare followed by an answering fanfare on trombones, which led to a thickening of the texture as amplified guitars, pianos, harps, and voices joined in, with massed brass at triple-forte sounding like percussion.

The patterning was like Steve Reich’s, only juicier; it went on for forty minutes, then stopped. One had the feeling of a massive hurtling object, bruising its way through space. Political? Pull the other one.