MUSIC / Choice pickings: Robert Maycock comes across educational pleasures in odd places

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Mention orchestras right now, and eyes start searching for the fire escape. You don't have far to look: try a week at the South Bank. This isn't a plug, but a search for a sense of proportion. I found it hard to make a choice before the orchestras even got on to the agenda.

This last week offered the start of the London Philharmonic's education work with Harrison Birtwistle and Sonic Arts Network's 'Voice Electric'. All right, these were the terribly worthy prospects. Excitement was certainly around among the orchestras this time, but it also lurked in less likely places too, with musicians who aren't yet big names.

I decided first to look into the Live Music Now] organisation, and found myself in a grand Belgravia house listening to English song and instrumental music from China. This wasn't typical: set up in 1977 by Yehudi Menuhin, LMN was taking music into 'community' venues long before the orchestras and the funding bodies latched on to the idea.

The other people to gain are the young musicians who take part. LMN now has 250 performers - the scheme auditions rigorously, and even at the current level of 1,500 events a year it can't meet the demand. Now run by the energetic Virginia Renshaw, it is fundraising and celebrating with concerts all month.

Pick of the Purcell Room week, meanwhile, had the unlikely combination of viola and percussion, from Jane Atkins and Richard Benjafield. Yes, there's a repertoire problem; but the Scottish musicians James and Dawn Durrant had commissioned pieces a couple of decades ago, Benjafield made his own down-to-earth versions of music by Scarlatti, Bartok and Chick Corea, and the 'associate composer' of the Young Concert Artists Trust, Andrew Toovey, had given them a new work called Your mouth.

It all added up to a lively evening, with Toovey's piece quirky and assertive, William Sweeney's drivingly rhythmic Sonata a real discovery, and Edward McGuire's Sounds Around, a wonderful collection of atmospheric conversations and games with musical toys, played more for laughs than it would have been in the Seventies. This was more Benjafield's show than Atkins's, but her superb lyrical sense was given its head in Edward Harper's Meditation.

Nothing quite so eventful happened in the first of the Sonic Arts Network concerts, which had two premieres for voices and electronics. Kathleen Tamplin's roundaboutagain seemed most confident with the latter; Katharine Norman's Icarus took the evening on to another level, with four voices floating long slow, rather baroque lines against sustained chords on tape, meditative rather than dramatic, reporting the ultimate air crash deadpan and then reacting with a gradual dissolve into unpitched sound.