Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

The crowds that throng Tate Modern are not frightened of being posed the question “Is this art?” So, in a symbolic gesture to show it is setting out on a popular new course after the £91m refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall, the Southbank Centre dipped its toe into the waters of cross-media programming with this concert.

“Was it music?” Clearly yes. But the selling-point of the evening was the contribution of digital artist Klaus Obermaier, who provided the visual effects to accompany a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. “Was it all-encompassing film-cum-art-cum- dance-cum-music?” Possibly.

Looking back at the publicity, it was made clear that only the Rite of Spring would be getting the special treatment, but many people must have spent the first half of the evening wondering why they were staring at an empty screen in the dark. It might have been preferable to leave conductor Marin Alsop and the LPO to play the opening two works – the prelude to Philip Glass’s opera Akhnaten and Varèse’s monumental Arcana – with the lights up. Only Alsop’s wryly amusing introduction to the Varèse lightened the mood of some rather gloomy music-making.

Once into the Stravinsky the novelty element took off. As a single dancer performed on the platform, the audience watched digitally manipulated images of her – sometimes multiplied 100 times – through 3D glasses. Obermaier captured cleverly the sense of a ritual taking place in an unknown time and place – but the extra dimension added by the visual effects was negated by the need to seat the orchestra on a flat platform, reducing the music to a one-dimensional grey.

As it turned out, the most striking extra sensory effect came right at the end, when the doors were opened and an overpowering aroma of haddock and chips swept the auditorium. It is nice to know that the RFH’s new canteen is up and running, but are we really going to have multi-media smell effects for every concert in the future?

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