The London Sinfonietta’s concert under Andrew Gourlay marked the Proms’ return to the Roundhouse, the festival’s regular venue for new music in the late 60s and 70s, though used infrequently since. It took place inside Ron Arad’s Curtain Call, an enveloping circular installation of silicone rods, on to which video images were streamed, sometimes beautiful, sometimes hallucinatory. It was mesmerising, and a bit trippy.
The programme, beautifully executed, focused primarily on microtonal music, with Ligeti’s 1969 Ramifications placed at the end as a reminder of its influence on many of the later works played before it. Georg Friedrich Haas’s Open Spaces II receiving its UK premiere, pays tribute to Ligeti’s experimentations and forms a memorial to the US microtonalist James Tenney, who died in 2006. Its slowly shifting sound clusters fracture into bewildering dissolution at its close.
There were two world premieres. Mica Levi’s brief, brilliant Signal Before War, written for the Sinfonietta’s leader Jonathan Morton, is a violin solo that traces an agonising microtonal ascent through the instrument’s range. David Sawer, in contrast, avoids microtones, and his beguiling April\March stood at a tangent from the rest of the programme. Inspired by a short story by Borges, it will eventually form a ballet, choreographed by Aletta Collins, in the Royal Ballet’s repertory. Playing on the idea of variation, both as a process of musical transformation and a display piece for a single dancer, it suggests a formal landscape gradually and mysteriously torn apart by dissonance.