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HUNGARY IN FOCUS at Blackheath Halls 5-12 July 2002
John CAGE, Peter EOTVOS, Lukas & Georgy LIGETI etc AMADINDA with Katalin Karolyi (mezzo-soprano) 5 July 2002 (PGW)


AMADINDA is the leading Hungarian percussion group and one of the world's greatest. It was formed in 1984 & first encountered by this writer at London's Almeida Theatre in James Wood's groundbreaking Percussion Festival 1988, the first European percussion festival ever, and a revelation that a whole series of concerts devoted entirely to percussion could be completely satisfying. That memory (Kroumata from Sweden and some amazing Americans took part too) is one of the most vivid in my musical experiences over many decades and I have acquired most of Amadinda's CDs. Now percussion festivals are everywhere, and the high virtuosity of leading percussionists is in danger of being taken for granted.

Amadinda was reviewed in the Huddersfield Festival 2000 in a very similar programme to that at Blackheath:

- - Huddersfield's day of percussion ended spectacularly, with a return visit after 11 years by the Amadinda Percussion Group, bringing from Budapest a lorry-load (or two?) of bizarre and exotic instruments they had accumulated in the meantime. Their three hour programme began with a marimba piece for the four players by Lukas Ligeti (son of Gyorgy), included three of the pioneering works of the early '40s by John Cage, and concluded with the UK premiere of seven economically scored little songs by Gyorgy Ligeti for mezzo-soprano (Katalin Karolyi) with percussion. Memorable, more as theatrical events than as music, were two works by players of the Group from their beFORe JOHN composition series of nine pieces, designed to 'connect, assert, save, assimilate, and possibly expand on traditional percussion cultures and prominent twentieth century movements'. - - - The experience was a primitive one of boundless, exuberant energy, visually dazzling; it will be interesting to hear to what extent this kaleidoscope of sound and movement comes across in Amadinda's latest CD Legacies [Hungaraton 31813] see discography.

and in 2001 by S&H from Strasbourg, where, in less propitious circumstances at the Museum of Modern Art Zoltán Rácz was reluctant to begin the percussion solo version of Psalm 151 by Peter Eötvös because of intrusive noise.

- - Extremely loud ambient noise from permanent equipment at the Museum of Modern Art (see Concerning multiple venues, dimming and sound pollution in Two Cellists review from Strasbourg) caused Zoltán Rácz to refuse to begin Amandida's percussion concert. The intrusive noise could not be eliminated, so Rácz was obliged to continue with the solo version of Psalm 151 by Peter Eötvös, a ritual memorial protestation in memory of Frank Zappa, with strophes on bass drum and 'processions' on metal instruments, included on a recommended CD [BIS 948]

This brilliant evening at Blackheath provides an opportunity to celebrate that venerable hall's magnificent acoustics. The Great Hall (a popular recording venue) has a wide barrel roof and the floor area is divided into nine bays by eight pilasters; four of those were filled by the more than a hundred instruments that Amadinda takes on tour, and five by the audience at candle lit tables (drinks can be brought in). Perfect!

Never can a percussion ensemble have sounded more magnificent than there, whether at full stretch on a fearsome battery of modern percussion, in traditional music on instruments the group had made themselves, or in a very quiet piece on the mbira. The Eötvös Psalm 151 made its full, solemn effect, Ligetiís son's new Independence had a worthy British premiere, and his father's Sippal is delicious and unique in Georgy's oeuvre, and charmingly sung by the singer who premiered it.

It was a magnificent concert, and I urge you to acquire the two CDs mentioned above and to come to some of the other events. Blackheath (12 minutes from central London) is definitely the place to be next week! Full details of HUNGARY IN FOCUS from

Peter Grahame Woolf


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