Risk-taking is in very short supply in classical music today. Except at Snape. There, the latest avant-garde tricks, writing for machines, and, yes, the occasional grandiose clap-trap are embraced by Aldeburgh Music as they continue to dare to be different. In his 1964 Aspen Award acceptance speech Britten warned of the dangers facing contemporary music -
There are many dangers which hedge around the unfortunate composer: pressure groups which demand true proletarian music, snobs who demand the latest avant-garde tricks ... He may find himself writing more and more for machines, in conditions dictated by machines, and not for humanity: or of course he may end by creating grandiose clap-trap when his real talent is for dance tunes or children's piano pieces.But Britten would never have wanted Aldeburgh to become a stuffy museum for his art, and, thankfully, today the Snape creative campus is much more about the future than the past. On Easter Saturday daring to be different came in the form of Tallis in Wonderland, I Fagiolini's deconstruction and reconstruction of polyphonic masterpieces from Tallis and his contemporaries, developed during one of the admirable Aldeburgh Residencies.
The relaxed workshop style presentation, complete with performers in jeans and mobile phones on stage - all shouting accessibility, has become more cliché than innovation. But, when I saw seventy near-field loudspeakers located among the audience, six PA speakers around the periphery and a mixing desk in the middle of the Snape Maltings auditorium, I swear I also heard a groan from the darkened box where Britten and Pears observed performances from.
Latest avant-garde tricks were in plentiful supply in Tallis in Wonderland. Auditorium loudspeakers annotated the polyphony with erotic references, live voices sung alongside recordings, and I Fagiolini confronted the tyrrany of the concert platform by using the whole of the Maltings auditorium to explain why polyphony really means 'many voices'. But it was all saved from being 'grandiose clap-trap' by the total respect for the music shown by the extraordinarily energetic performers.
It is no criticism of the multi-talented I Fagiolini if I put the final score at Music 2 - Technology 1. Tallis In Wonderland did give me a new insight into the textures of polyphony. And it did make me want to listen again to those soaring masterpieces. But without the assistance of a personal loudspeaker, thanks very much. I am sure Britten would have been delighted with the final score.
Tallis in Wonderland is also being performed at the Spitalfields Festival in June. Header photo was taken at Snape on Saturday before the concert and is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk