Concert Review

Louis Andriessen M is for Man, Music, Mozart and De Tijd  BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Martyn Brabbins, with New London Children's Chorus  The Barbican, 10 December 1999

Swapping one minimalist composer for another, the film-maker Peter Greenaway has forsaken his former collaborator Michael Nyman in favour of the 60-year-old Dutchman Louis Andriessen for his latest project, M is for Man Music Mozart. This was presented by members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican last Friday 10 December. If atonality is the world in chaos, minimalism represents that other source of contemporary Angst, the fear of automatism or man placed at the mercy of machines. It is conveyor belt music. At least Andriessen's handling is slightly more refined than Nyman's brutal repetitiveness, but they are still both inclined to render audiences unconscious, Nyman with a sledge-hammer, Andriessen with an anaesthetic.

Greenaway's silent film is peopled by expressionless, naked actors whose dispassionate voyeurism suits the non-committal mood of the music. The mezzo-soprano Cristina Zavalloni sings a poetic commentary into a microphone. The words appear on the screen, not as subtitles but as an integral part of the film. The score punctuates the action. A snatch of Mozart's C major piano sonata K545 ('for beginners') heralds the birth of genius. A horror chord stabs at the sifting of body parts in a tableau resembling 18th century anatomy lessons.

Andriessen's De Tijd, or Time, which filled the second half of the concert with relentless bar-counting, has no accompanying film to distract the listener, and the steady slow sunset of its progress soon acts soporifically. It is scored for full orchestra with only eight players in the violin and viola sections. Members of the New London Children's Chorus (most of whom would stretch the definition of child) filled the empty desks and sung a wordless text within the music's weft.

In an introductory talk which took up some 20 minutes of concert time (such extras should be pre-concert and optional), Andriessen explained that he was interested in creating stillness in music. In this reviewer's view, he has succeeded a little too well. The piece was stagnant.

Rick Jones

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