There was no programme note of any kind for Morton Subotnick's Until Spring Revisited, the opening event in this year's Ether festival on the South Bank. This is an omission that a festival of unfamiliar work shouldn't be making; Subotnick might have a reputation as an American pioneer of electronic music, but even Until Spring, from 1975, is scarcely known here, and its reworking for clarinet (Subotnick himself), three laptops and light artist (Sue Constable) is too complex to describe in a review.
It transpired - from a snatched conversation with the performers afterwards - that the composer's own solo clarinet melody did not (as I'd thought) generate all the music in this one-hour performance, but it was interesting to hear its evolution as though that initial melody were its source.
The screen displaying shimmering, shifting shapes and colours, sometimes abstract, sometimes gem-like, also turned out not to be showing projections derived from the keys and body of the clarinet (as it looked to me), but to be a complex, entirely independent light-show delivered live by Constable. But pondering these possibilities enhanced my own perception of this fascinating combination of music and visuals.
It was good that Michael Nyman invited his friend, the pianist John Tilbury, to play in the second Ether programme. Tilbury's interpretation of three pages from Cornelius Cardew's Treatise at first sounded unexpectedly like Olivier Messiaen. But the resonances he carefully conjured from the piano were soon elaborated electronically and combined with Tilbury's more familiar techniques to produce a performance of magical and masterly restraint. Compelling, too, was his understated yet richly nuanced account of Morton Feldman's Palais de Mari.
But the less said about the brain-curdling, inspiration-free zone of the second half of this concert, the better. It consisted of tricksy reworkings of Nyman's own music, in which the performers were the self-styled "stiletto-clad" piano duo of Cassie Yukawa and Rosey Chan and the long-suffering Michael Nyman String Quartet, with the bass clarinettist Andrew Sparling.
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