London Sinfonietta | South Bank Centre, London

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The Independent Culture

State of the Nation was a weekend of contemporary music organised by a combination of the London Sinfonietta, the BBC, the South Bank Centre and a host of specialist music organisations. In the rarified world of "new music", getting a thousand people overall to attend such a happening counts as a mass event - but if this represented "the Nation", it was a peculiarly narrow slice of it. Even making the concerts free didn't fill more than half the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Nevertheless, there was a pleasant buzz of activity throughout.

Though the majority of the offerings were pretty much of the standard classical avant-garde type, improvisation, multi-media, jazz and amateur music-making were all included, too. In a "prequel" to the main event, on Friday, composers collaborated with dancers and choreographers in a programme that included a remarkable duet played and danced (!) by Lucy Shaw and her double bass, with music by Luke Stoneham. On Saturday, amidst a plethora of talks, workshops and concerts, a delightful project by Coma, who specialise in music for amateurs, resulted in 30 or 40 musicians putting together a collective piece under the guidance of Philip Cashian.

Nice to see a number of very young participants here; events like this and other workshops were a refreshing change from the slight preciousness of the average contemporary music event, and helped counteract the dead hand of academicism that looms over "new music" culture. As did one or two of the multi-media events, like the lively jazz performance by the Russell van der Berg Quintet on Sunday, accompanying a Charlie Chaplin film. Another Coma offering was from their Allcomers ensemble, who gave a convincing performance of Deirdre Gribbin's Follow the Horse under the baton of Simon Foxley.

Saturday afternoon's QEH concert featured the severe but glittering sound world of William Attwood's "Tourbillons", and the much warmer "Alberti Addict" of Joe Duddell, in which a musical cliché was transformed into a series of broad, sweeping gestures. Saturday evening saw a programme of chamber works in the Purcell Room, including the slightly anarchic shenanigans of David Breezes's Mixed Doubles, a quirky but entertaining "pygmy horn concerto", Static, by Steven Denison, and the dynamic and colourful Fanfare "from the back of beyond" of Tom Ingoldsby.

The grand finale on Sunday evening went right over the top with a multi-media assault on the senses including the frenetic Junk Box Fraud, by Donnacha Dennehy, a cryptic Kinderspel by Rose Dodd and Steve Connolly (both with video and sound-projection), plus the more conventional Rigmarole by Geoffrey Hannan, Dai Fujikura's driven and exciting Frozen Heat, and the menacing and atmospheric Ouroboros of Jonathan Cole. Throughout, the London Sinfonietta were directed with considerable sang-froid by Pierre-Andre Valade. Altogether a thoroughly worthy venture, but one that that did little to dispel the image of contemporary classical music as a highly specialist minority culture.

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