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October 10, 2012 6:37 pm
Each autumn the Southbank Centre sets aside a couple of weeks for Ether. This short festival ventures into the rarefied air of cutting-edge music, where boundaries between disciplines evaporate – rock merges with classical, music with dance, film, video, and various kinds of electronics.
At around the halfway point, on Tuesday, Ether 12 arrived at an evening that focused on the work of Tyondai Braxton, the American composer and performer who made his name with the rock group Battles. In this year’s line-up he takes his place alongside events devoted to John Cage, Morton Feldman and Jonathan Harvey at the classical end of the spectrum.
The programme paired Braxton with the London Sinfonietta, which was making its first appearance at the Southbank Centre in a busy 2012/13 season. The first half of the evening ventured into classic London Sinfonietta territory, but in fact it was Braxton who had chosen the music, four contrasting works from the past 80 years that show where he considers his musical roots to lie.
The first two – Octandre by Varèse and Rain Coming by Takemitsu – take pure sound to its extremes. The Varèse, an octet for wind and brass, builds up blocks of hard, bright sonorities, whereas the much softer Takemitsu shows how similar sounds can be scaled down to a level of hyper-sensitivity. The other two pieces were both composed originally for the Kronos Quartet: Ingram Marshall’s Fog Tropes II, with its atmospheric blending of instruments and a tape of birds and fog horns, and Bryce Dessner’s coruscating Aheym, which ended the first half in a blaze of energy.
Put those into a melting-pot and something like Braxton’s Central Market might come out. Performed by the London Sinfonietta and the Tyondai Braxton Band (guitars and electronics), Central Market is an orchestral suite that takes energy and punch from rock and plays them out in music of classical proportions. Braxton’s rock fans may find the result altogether too much like a symphony, though its ebullience keeps it bowling along. In the last movement echoes of Stravinsky’s ballets become a lot more obvious. As the centenary of The Rite of Spring’s notorious premiere in 1913 approaches, it seems Stravinsky has lost none of his overwhelming influence.
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