Mahan Esfahani review – fresh and provocative

Milton Court, London
Inspired by John Cage, the harpsichordist experimented with indeterminacy, played pulsating duets with prerecorded versions of himself, and consulted a computerised version of the I Ching

Over the last two years, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has been reading his way through the writings of John Cage. From them he developed the idea for this fresh and provocative recital: three new works, all composed for Esfahani, alongside 20th-century classics for the harpsichord by Berio and Cage – all of them pieces in which many of the decisions about how the music should be played are left to the performer’s discretion.

Electronics and digital sampling feature prominently, too. In Quadroforone No 1, by the Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen, Esfahani’s hyperactive live harpsichord meshes with prerecorded and transformed versions of itself, creating dense, pulsing textures somewhere between the early minimalism of Steve Reich and the complex canonic writing of Conlon Nancarrow. Anahita Abbasi’s Intertwined Distances takes a more radical line with the prerecorded harpsichord transformations, providing a confrontational backdrop to the equally explosive live element.

Esfahani prepares his harpsichord.
Esfahani prepares his harpsichord to play Miroslav Srnka’s Triggering. Photograph: Mark Allan

There were no electronics in Berio’s tumbling miniature Rounds – a single page without clefs, that’s played through normally, then upside down, and finally the right way up again but faster – nor in Miroslav Srnka’s rather dated and unconvincing Triggering, in which the harpsichord is “prepared” with objects placed on its strings. But one of the solos from Cage’s evening-long HPSCHD not only surrounded the live instruments with a torrent of prerecorded sound, but used a computerised version of the I Ching to fix many of the performance parameters. Esfahani chose a solo that required him to practise and play something by Mozart; he’d opted for the D minor Fantasia, whose fragments emerged from the welter of the electronic sounds that threatened to overwhelm them.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Missy Mazzoli/Kelly Moran review – captivating musical alchemy
Mazzoli’s ethereal minimalism seemed to warp time and space, while Moran coaxed a blizzard of effects from her piano in a show that defied categorisation

John Lewis

08, Mar, 2020 @5:02 PM

Article image
Ryoji Ikeda review – techno data storm assaults the senses
The Japanese composer and visual artist’s polyrhythmic techno confronts our digital dystopia

Al Horner

01, Oct, 2018 @10:15 AM

Article image
New Music Biennial review – from the novel to the
From a turntable artist’s orchestral remix to Gazelle Twin’s melodic revelry, composers reimagine classical

Philip Clark

07, Jul, 2019 @3:16 PM

Article image
Wysing Polyphonic review – explosions in the sonic inventing shed
Moor Mother and Paul Purgas curate an inspirational gathering where electronic artists, dancers and poets freely test the boundaries of expression

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

02, Sep, 2018 @11:50 AM

Article image
Deep Minimalism 2.0 review – female voices make less feel more
Feldman’s Triadic Memories are an interminable low, but much of the rest of this exploration of minimalism through an alternative largely female canon was cerebral and quietly compelling

John Lewis

04, Nov, 2019 @1:56 PM

Article image
End of the Road festival review – potent bacchanalia and mysticism
‘See you in the twilight zone’ says one musician; EOTR has enough weirdness, charm and shaggy charisma to weather our end-of-days era

Jazz Monroe

02, Sep, 2019 @11:01 AM

Article image
Baroque at the Edge review – 17th-century monsters rampage into present day
At a festival buzzing with ideas, performers including Liam Byrne and Elicia Silverstein reworked baroque music for modern ears

Erica Jeal

07, Jan, 2019 @3:09 PM

Article image
Tectonics review – noise, toys and heavenly soundscapes
The BBC SSO’s dreamy drones mingle with plastic-cup players and flocks of bleating kazoos at the festival of experimental sounds

Katie Hawthorne

07, May, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Principal Sound review – Luigi Nono's fragile postcards from Venice
Alongside works by Morton Feldman, the experimental music festival centred on the Italian composer’s enigmatic pieces that blur instrumentation into electronics

Andrew Clements

19, Feb, 2018 @4:56 PM

Article image
'People thought we were on drugs – and we were!' … Tony Conrad, the great avant-garde adventurer
He inspired the Velvet Underground, thought Andy Warhol was a copycat, and met his wife while playing the mummy in erotic underground movie Normal Love. Tony Conrad talks sex, drugs and celluloid fry-ups in a power plant in Berlin

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

22, Mar, 2016 @7:00 AM