Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bring on the iterations


Iterations are the way forward for classical music. In the continuing quest for new audiences the iterative process currently involves new music, new composers, new media, new recorded music distribution models, new performance venues and new pricing structures. Over the weekend Aldeburgh Music contributed another iteration with Tarantula in Petrol Blue. This new opera was performed in Snape Maltings using local youngsters supplemented by professional singers. A first-rate but uncompromisingly modern score by Anna Meredith was coupled somewhat uncomfortably with a populist but surprisingly dark text by children's author Philip Ridley. His lines 'If you do what I say/You can chew my gum all day' convey the spirit of the iteration.

Street cred was in abundance at Snape last night. Arias were sung via mobile phones, skateboards appeared on stage, McDonalds was among the product placements and amplification, which favoured male voices, was the order of the day. 30 year old Bijan Sheibani directed an unduly busy production that often competed with the music. Only in the moving closing scenes did the young director discover that less can mean more. With the on-stage action subdued the sheer brilliance of the score and the sheer commitment of the young performers was finally revealed.

The problem with this kind of iteration is understanding who it is aimed at, other than the young performers. The two post-teen youngsters in our party found the young cast quite wonderful and the music surprisingly engaging. But, ultimately, the whole experience did not 'connect' for them. The elderly gentleman in the row behind us spent most of the performance kicking our seat backs and concluded 'Well, Gilbert and Sullivan have nothing to fear'. Two teenagers in the row in front found their own mobile phones more interesting than those on-stage. As a post-50 new music nerd I found the evening very rewarding. In particular I thought Anna Meredith's score was the work of a real talent, and the young conductor Jessica Cottis was a real hero - watch out for those two names.

Once again Aldeburgh Music has shown that there is life beyond comfort music. (As I write BBC Radio 3's iteration is Robert Russell Bennett's A Symphonic Story of Jerome Kern.) But Tarantula in Petrol Blue also shows, once again, that good new classical music is an acquired taste. Bring on the next iteration.

Our four tickets for Tarantula in Petrol Blue were bought at the Snape box office. Header image is a graphic iteration of the inside of the roof of Snape Maltings which celebrates how music rose from the wreckage at Snape, and is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

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