Take the A Train to Old Street

Things are looking up at the global-galactic HQ of LondonJazz. Or, to be more accurate, I am now looking up. Because the space next to me in the Musicbase at Kings Place, previously empty, is now occupied by a man who is 6′ 5″.

He’s the young manager of a dynamic orchestra of classical players in their twenties called the Aurora Orchestra. I’ve heard them, they do interesting programmes. One critic wrote about them: “adventurous, elite groups such as Aurora […] are the future of music.”

My neighbour tells me that the orchestra has two things to celebrate: its fifth birthday, and the start of a new residency at LSO St Luke’s in Old Street. They’ve got a vcelebration concertthis Friday 19th. And when it comes to topping out the celebration, it will be with a new arrangement by Iain Farrington of Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train.

The orchestra’s conductor, Nicholas Collon has written to me about one of the main pieces: the Berio piece Laborintus II.

It’s always fascinated me how Berio’s music, despite being so rooted in its time, continues to attract such a huge following, from all fields. One reason for this must be that he defied genres, looking at music as an essentially dramatic artform unfettered by rigid stylistic classifications – an approach which meant that he could feel at home not only with Monteverdi and Purcell, but also with Ligeti, Stockhausen and – famously – the Grateful Dead (Phil Lesch studied with him in California).

Laborintus II is a classic example of this eclecticism: a footnote to the score states that ‘this may be performed as a theatrical event, a narrative, an allegory, a documentary, a pantomime etc. It may be performed in the theatre, in concert, on television, on the radio, in the open air etc.’ On Friday, we’ll be exploring the piece with members of Mahogany Opera, directed by Frederic Wake-Walker, with a startling light design that’ll make you think you’ve walked straight into the year 2035.

This sense of creating a piece of music as a dramatic ‘event’ is very much part of our contemporary zeitgeist, and something which Aurora seeks actively to promote. And yet, so much of Berio’s soundworld is so unmistakably… well, 1960s. He was, of course, fascinated and greatly influenced by key jazz figures in the 1950s and 60s, and let this feed into his writing in a fascinating way. In Laborintus II there is a 10-minute recorded tape track, which features distorted elements of improvisation (performed on the original recording by soprano Christiane Legrand, jazz hero Michel Portal on clarinet, Jean-Pierre Drouet on drums and legendary bass player Jean-François Jenny-Clarke). Over the top of this recording, the live performers indulge in a 2-minute long jam; indeed, in our staging this Friday, even the chorus will be dancing along.

This overlaying of live and recorded elements also appears in another piece of Berio’s (Différences) which I recently conducted with the London Sinfonietta. It’s an amazing effect, because you feel the connection between the live musicians and their recorded forbears, and we’re immediately drawn into a soundscape from 40 years ago (he writes in the score ‘“Free jazz” style of the sixties is recommended’). Imagine how amazing that will feel when it’s performed in 200 years: jamming along with players from 250 years ago….

If you’ve never heard or seen Laborintus II, it’s well worth it, and you may never get another chance to hear it programmed alongside works by Gabrieli, Britten, and John Adams.

Categories: miscellaneous

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