Classical & Opera: Can't see the woodwind for the trees

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The stuffy world of classical music is about to get a shock with the arrival in London of the maverick musician Dave Heath, with his new work `The Rage'

There is nothing like a breath of fresh air to ventilate a stuffy room. Similarly, there is nothing like a musical maverick to enliven the customarily staid classical music scene. And one, perhaps, cannot get much more maverick than the 40-year-old Manchester- born, and now Edinburgh-based composer Dave Heath (right). The out-spoken Heath looks set to take London's musical establishment by storm this week when he and his ensemble arrives at the South Bank's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 26 Jan for an evening of his work, culminating in his latest opus, appropriately entitled The Rage.

"British troops were just standing around whilst those Muslims were being taken out and shot," are his first words to me, while explaining one of The Rage's points of genesis. Yet he doesn't elaborate on which specific incident he had in mind, instead continuing to say: "And look at the rain-forests. I really wanted to say something about what's going on in the rain-forests. Well, what is going on? Bugger all. What's anybody doing about it?" Yet before one can enquire how precisely the rain-forest question features in The Rage, Heath is off again, on a different track: "Stockhausen and Cage - they attempted these sorts of happening pieces, yet, to my mind, not a lot happens in them."

Yet a lot does seem to happen in The Rage, which combines an eclectic gamut of influences, including Indian classical music, soul, neoclassicism, atonality, reggae and sonic recreation of rain-forest effects. "I'm not a classical composer," says Heath. "Don't like the word. What does it mean. For a start it specifically refers to a type of music written about 200 years ago. Outdated or what? And it promulgates this white Aryan supremacist view of what music is. Ve haf vays of making you listen to Schoenberg," he adds, in ham German. "I prefer an alternative history of 20th-century music which includes people like Charlie Parker, Robbie Coltrane, Weather Report - people doing something what you might call new... and relevant. I wonder why Schoenberg never thought of that. I mean, he was a clever bloke, but it obviously never occurred to him and he preferred to fart around with his 12-note scale instead."

In terms of novelty, an interesting feature of Heath's concert is that the virtuoso flautist will himself be playing a new bass flute specially developed for him. "It produces some amazing timbres," he says, enthusiastically. "Should sound good in the ensemble; and I've got a fine line-up of musos, that includes violinist Clio Gould, cellist Melissa Phelps, saxman Simon Haram and pianist Scott Mitchell - a great bunch of nutters who I like to work with." And, so, is Heath looking forward to raging his way down to London? "Certainly am," he concludes. "Just hope some people turn up. No, should be a good night - a sort of contemporary cabaret overlay overlap sort of night. And at least there won't be a pseud pre-concert talk or any bollocks like that. Though you can chat to me in the bar afterwards if you like."

Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, SE1 (0171-960 4242) 26 Jan 7.45pm

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