The avant-garde pianist and composer Harold Budd's final concert before retiring was a real coup for the Festival, with Bill Nelson, John Foxx, Robin Guthrie and Jah Wobble among those joining "the godfather of ambient music".
But it began more like a wake, not helped by the violin virtuoso Alexander Balanescu's sombre introduction. The audience greeted his string quartet almost reverentially, and as each short movement suddenly halted, you could hear the pages of the score being turned and the hum of static. Mournful renditions of "Chrysalis Nu" and "Three Faces West", though exquisitely timed, couldn't help but feel valedictory.
Budd entered, briefly acknowledging the audience. His stabbing chords counterpointed Theo Travis's beautiful flute playing, and on "Arabesque II", Budd's piano rolled and roiled, suggesting an anxious kind of restfulness. His music is always paradoxical in this way, the fragile beauty of the surface belying a darker emotional topography.
The mood was lifted with "How Vacantly You Stare at Me". Budd's minimalism has always suggested a film score (he has written a few) and this was aided tonight by Russell Mills's set design: four drapes and a giant backdrop burnt with colour.
The reception for the guitar legend Nelson - a few whoops, the odd "yeah!" - was as riotous as it got, but his guitar created a bizarre ecstasy on "The Trees Alone", an elemental spectacle with the echo and refrain of Foxx's gothic incantations turning the hall into a cathedral.
After the interval, Steve Jansen, formerly the drummer with Japan, appeared bathed in blue light and performed the solo gong piece "Lirio", which acted as an awesome segue into the 30-minute mega-jam that followed as the musicians collected on stage. You can see why Budd has liked working with the ex-Cocteau Twin guitarist Guthrie, who similarly squeezes so much out of so little. This was lift music in the elevator to heaven.
Otherwise, the music felt oddly desiccated, Budd's delicate piano all but lost under the other instruments. It wasn't until Jah Wobble's bass groove and Jansen's crisp drumming kicked in that some urgency was injected.
I suppose that a few here might have been secretly hoping that some friends could have arranged his infamous "topless choir" instruction for his "Madrigals for the Rose Angel" score as a send-off, but clearly that would have been too much excitement for everyone.Reuse content