Nonclassical Club NIght
Freya Waley-Cohen, The Hermes Experiment, Liam Byrne
The Victoria, Dalston. 12 July 2017
Nonclassical is an enterprising musical set up combining a record label with monthly club nights around London, founded in 2004 by composer Gabriel Prokofiev. The club nights bring classical music, both newly composed and more traditional, to the rock club scene, with events usually held in pub entertainment rooms. If the aim was to attract the sort of audience that wouldn’t be seen dead in places like the Wigmore Hall, it has certainly succeeded. The audience stands, drinks in hand, around a stage packed with loudspeakers. Between the acts, DJs continue the theme of inventive new music. The associated record label includes extracts from the live gigs as well as remixes of new compositions.
The last of this season’s monthly club nights was curated by composer Freya Waley-Cohen, one of Nonclassical’s associate composers, and held in the laid-back atmosphere of The Victoria pub in Dalston, the back performance room accessed through a secret door hidden in a book-lined wall, in true country house fashion. The evening opened with a set from contemporary quartet The Hermes Experiment (Héloïse Werner, voice, Oliver Pashley, clarinet, Anne Denholm, harp and, on this occasion, Raivis Misjuns, double bass, standing in for Marianne Schofield). They started with an arrangement by Anne Denholm of Meredith Monk’s 1986 ‘Double Fiesta’, originally for two pianos and soprano, with soprano Héloïse Werner exploring Monk’s inventive use of the human voice. Josephine Stephenson’s ‘…after George’ followed, a tour de force for clarinet and double bass, the latter frequently using ethereal harmonics. After William Croft’s Sarabande and Ground played on the harp by Anne Denholm, their first set finished with Georges Aperghis’s ‘Récitation 9’ (score pictured), with its ever-expanding sequences of texts and sounds and increasingly complex spoken recitations, leading to an explosive concluding battery of words that was as much about Héloïse Werner’s brilliant acting as her singing. A video of Héloïse Werner performing this extraordinary piece in 2013 can be seen here.
Liam Byrne combines working and teaching as a leading viola da gamba player at the highest level of the early music world, with involvment in contemporary music. His set contrasted pieces by the 17th century master of the viola da gamba Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe with Alex Mills’s ‘Suspensions and Solutions’ for viol and electronic reverb, with its extraordinary sounds and textures, and Freya Waley-Cohen’s ‘Unbridling’ with its snatches of melancholy melody followed by a sequence of low chord clusters. A video of the first performance can be viewed here.
The Hermes Experiment returned for their second set, opening with the 1st movement of Donatoni’s 1980 ‘Clair’ for virtuoso solo clarinet followed by the world premiere of Darren Bloom’s very well-received ‘Second fig’ and We Phoenician Sailors, a song cycle by the evening’s curator, Freya Waley-Cohen and poet Octavia Bright.
In between the sets, DJs Gabriel Prokofiev and Eleanor Ward played music that might have been anonymous (at least to me) but was nonetheless fascinating, even if most of the audience had decamped into the adjoining bar.
This was my first experience of one of Nonclassical’s club nights, although I have known several musicians who have performed at previous events. The atmosphere was reverential during the music, but whoopy, yelly, clappy in appreciation afterwards, a response classical musicians rarely get on the traditional stage. The new compositions were particularly well received,as they deserved to be. I would love to know how many of the audience were musicians themselves, or how many were newcomers to the world of contemporary classical music. The performances from The Hermes Experiment and Liam Byrne were outstanding, in some very technically demanding music. A video of the first part of the evening was posted live on the Nonclassical Facebook page, and can be viewed here. My review of Freya Waley-Cohen’s most recent CD of her own compositions played by her sister, violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, can be found here.