Concert Reviews

Apartment House play Feldman

November 9, 2013

Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, London.
8th November 2013

A few brief words then on the performance of Morton Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field by a stripped down version of Apartment House last night in London. I am, I think I have written here many times, a huge fan of Morton Feldman’s work, and the late, longer works in particular. Patterns in a Chromatic Field has always been a bit of an odd one to me though. I do like the piece, a great deal, but written in 1981 it has never really felt like it fitted well alongside the rest of the great man’s canon of that time. Patterns lasts around eighty minutes, is faster (or at least feels faster) than just about everything else written near the end of Feldman’s life, and while his essential ideas of placing similar but not identical sections beside each other in a composition do apply here, there is much more variation from moment to moment in Patterns than in anything else in the late catalogue, and by some distance the piece is more quirky, difficult, and in places, just plain daft when held up against the more repetitive, simpler structures of his composition. Divided up into many small sections, the two instruments written for, cello (played by Anton Lukoszevieze) and piano (Philip Thomas) dance in little patterns around one another, usually in bursts of a minute or two, sometimes quite solemn, sometimes full of fun, each time pitching sounds that we may have heard elsewhere in the composition, or may not have done against one another. Sometimes it is frightfully beautiful, and other times it becomes (as one person I spoke to after the concert last night brilliantly remarked) like a kind of postmodern Flight of the Bumblebee. Such a lot happens, and there is little warning or time for the musicians to prepare between changes, that this must be one of the most demanding of Feldman’s late works. Thomas echoed these thoughts to me after the show, saying that he found the piece harder to play than even the longer, more repetitive late compositions, such are the demands placed on the musicians’ focus.

Lukoszevieze and Thomas coped really well with the pressures of the work. Lukoszevieze’s touch in particular is exceptional, the purity and quality of his stroke near perfect each time the bow its a string. Thomas matched him well,  playing subtly when needed, forcefully elsewhere, and the balance between the two felt perfect to me, with neither leading or pushing their own musical character to the fore. there were a few tiny moments that felt like slight errors, and sat where I was, quite some way back in the large hall some of the higher notes seemed to drift off out of earshot, but overall the execution of the piece was very good.  This is particularly impressive when you consider how vulnerable this particularly difficult piece of music leaves musicians. There is nowhere to hide, no sense of repetitive structure to bury small faults in, they are left right out in the open, in front of several hundred people.

A great concert then, and a real pleasure to add another of Feldman’s late works under my concert-going belt. One annoying factor- throughout the piece people insisted on getting up and walking out of the hall, nearly always noisily. I just wonder why people do this? Clearly if you attended the concert you likely knew something about Feldman’s music. Surely people wouldn’t sign up for a show like this blind? The length of the piece was explained in advance also, and the absence of an interval noted, so why sit down only to get up again before the end, so spooling everyone’s else’s experience at the same time? One woman even got up and left halfway through from the front row. To get a ticket down there she must have booked very early on. Was she a Feldman expert who took offence to this particular realisation of the work? I find that hard to believe. The rest of the audience were exceedingly quiet and respectful, but the half a dozen or so walkers spoilt it a little for me.Human beings are beyond me at times. Still, a fantastic performance of a rarely heard work. Well worth the trip.

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