MUSIC / Try, try and try again: Robert Maycock on new approaches to new music from Eos and Icebreaker

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The Independent Culture
THEY give you worthy lectures about Tippett, and then tell you the soloists' sexual habits. They play Corelli wearing crowns of foliage, and Mozart with a child tying balloons to the music stands. Lights deck the stage like a shopping centre in Advent. They are called Eos, pronounced to rhyme with chaos, and their staff party this year took place before a large paying audience.

Enthusiasm, or at least the conductor's, is their selling point. As an up-and-coming chamber orchestra with a crowded field to enter, they evidently can't just rely on using some of the brightest young players in London. Even before this South Bank debut, presented by the Park Lane Group, the reputation of their packaging was better known than their playing.

They try too hard; harder than they need. Not all Mozart-lovers are so bored by the final variations of the Sinfonia Concertante for four solo wind instruments that they need the twee distraction. Anyway the wind section, at least as it played here, is the orchestra's musical strength.

String ensemble was less secure, and while the general approach was vigorous and forthright, it lacked subtlety - the first two movements of the Mozart might have taken wing if Charles Hazlewood had not kept beating a solid four-in-the-bar, and Tippett's Corelli Fantasia had more energy than clarity. As for the way they present themselves, the background lighting and stage set and general informality worked well, though the players looked sheepish about it. Hazlewood chatted from the rostrum, and despite the Oxbridge end-of-term style he had the audience on his side.

But like the staging, he got carried away. So did Eos's judgement. Premiering a film with live musical accompaniment seems a good way to make an impact. But to bring it off would need something more gripping than Derrick Santini's wan black-and-white tale (title, Eos) of a lonely man wandering through beaches and forests and deserted formal gardens.

Barry Adamson's score, called A New Beginning, matched it in spirit and surpassed it in caution. Then there was the encore, written by one of the players: bits of the Vaughan Williams London Symphony enclosed a bout of frantic vamping, invaded by distorted versions of The Red Flag and Land of Hope and Glory from opposite sides of the auditorium.

Icebreaker, the amplified, Dutch-style new music band, has the opposite problem: a degree more slickness, and it would be an irresistible force. Putting on the same concert three times in the same hall suggests confidence. But last week it was the same nearly-there Icebreaker it has been since it started.

If you take the abrasive, pared-down rhythmic purity of Louis Andriessen's music as your starting-point, it isn't enough to get only 95 per cent of the chords totally together - especially when, as here, De Snelheid followed a late start and several minutes' fiddling with cables and connections.

The repertoire, at least, is diversifying. Dance/Drop, by the young American David Lang, has a touch of Andriessen, a touch of Torke, and a succinct melodic style of its own. Two pieces by Michael Gordon, including a premiere called Yo Shakespeare, throw rock, Caribbean and Country ingredients into a lively, pulsating brew. Graham Fitkin's Mesh has an ear for lucid and varied scoring that Icebreaker doesn't always find. But it still doesn't sound single-minded enough about what it performs or the way it plays.

Of the groups that have sprung up to play this raucous and engaging post-minimal music over the last decade or so, Icebreaker has shown the broadest outlook and the most potential staying power. Maybe next time . . .