Cornelius Cardew: Treatise (excerpt) Morton Feldman: Why Patterns Music Projects/London (Richard Bernas) BMIC at The Warehouse. Thursday 11 November 1999
Part of the attraction of the BMIC's ongoing series at The Warehouse is the opportunity it affords to catch up with groups whose profile or repertoire finds too few outlets in the UK these days. So it is with Music Projects/London, a close-knit group of freelancers, which has done much to promote the more progressive side of European music over the last two decades.
There are few more impressive-looking conceptions than Cornelius Cardew's Treatise (1963-7), a 236-page graphic score of exquisite intricacy. Questions of what to play and how to play it are left to the performer(s)' discretion; though, as here, a degree of pre-performance planning helps reinforce the very definite continuity in texture and dynamics that the individual pages suggest.
MP/L realised the first 30 pages at a Maida Vale recital last May: the next 30 pages followed this evening, in an often intense rendering for flute, clarinet, trombone, viola, double bass and the wonderfully 'period' sound of a Hammond B2 organ; its venerable nature skilfully administered to by Bernas himself. The result was 37 minutes of concentrated music making - free form but never directionless, and a great demonstration of thinking and reacting in a 'real-time' performance situation.
If Treatise is about means, Morton Feldman's Why Patterns (1978) is about ends, with only the close of this 36 minute work synchronising the three instruments in a discernible conclusion. Yet with the three sound sources as well defined as flutes, glockenspiel and piano, each with its own repertory of musical ideas, there's little chance of flexibility descending into monotony.
As in his so many of his later works, its the disarming elegance of Feldman's musical thinking that compels respect: encouraging 'deep listening' through the subtle repetition - now literal, now varied - of melodic and rhythmic patterns in a stream of consciousness that never feels arbitrary or indulgent. Again, a sympathetic performance, with Nancy Ruffer deftly switching between flutes so as not to affect continuity.
Why Patterns is currently available on CD in a concise and committed realisation by members of The California EAR Unit [New Albion NA039CD]. Cardew is unrepresented in the current catalogue, an unfortunate state of affairs which the anniversary of his 65th birthday in 2001 will hopefully remedy, what with recordings of Parts 1 and 2 of The Great Learning (Deutsche Grammophon) and the Thälmann Variations (Recommended) awaiting reissue.
In the meantime, let's look forward to further concerts in this series from Music Projects/ London.
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