New Music Biennial review – from the novel to the

Southbank Centre, London
From a turntable artist’s orchestral remix to Gazelle Twin’s melodic revelry, composers reimagine classical

However deeply electronic composers and turntablists journey inside their own world of sound, the invitation to map their primary musical concerns on to a symphony orchestra usually proves impossible to resist. At the Southbank Centre’s New Music Biennial, some dealt with that crossover opportunity more resourcefully than others.

Dialogue by the British-Iranian turntable artist Shiva Feshareki failed to deliver on the promise of its premise: the material, which Feshareki composed for BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor André de Ridder, was pre-recorded, giving her the opportunity to transform it electronically before our ears. This throws up, she explained, the alluring prospect of hearing a transformation before the thing itself has been played orchestrally. In reality, though, the orchestral drones felt too broad and loosely argued to instigate a full-on dialogue between turntable and orchestra.

Gazelle Twin and BBC Concert Orchestra.
Gazelle Twin and BBC Concert Orchestra. Photograph: Victor Frankowski

On stage, electronic music composer and singer Elizabeth Bernholz – who performs as Gazelle Twin – presents as if she’s the love child of Kate Bush and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Her collaboration with composer/orchestrator Max de Wardener, The Power and the Glory, is largely a reimagining of material from her 2018 album Pastoral, and had a satisfying concentration of instrumental detail and dramatic urgency. Using densely nested string clusters to evoke the buzz of flies – which set the richly gothic mood – Gazelle Twin’s soaring, ecstatic melodic revelry was offset by unsettling, haunted orchestral backdrops.

Following this re-weirding of English idylls, The Centre of Everything, a 12-minute piece for strings by Edmund Finnis, was business as usual as stuffy counterpoint quickly defaulted to well-schooled, blue-passport pastoralism. Over in the foyer, the bold Charles Mingus-based volatility of a Langston Hughes-inspired piece called The Dream Without a Name, by the young jazz pianist Sarah Tandy and her group, went down well. But back in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the anaemic doodles of Where to Build in Stone – music with video by the Hull-based electronic duo Numb Mob – left me hoping that this didn’t, as the festival’s slogan proposed, “define new music”.

• New Music Biennial is at Southbank Centre, London, until 7 July, and then at various venues in Hull, 12 – 14 July.


Philip Clark

The GuardianTramp

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