REVIEW: Nonclassical at the Victoria : Maarja Nuut + The Hermes Experiment

Maarja Nuut

Nonclassical: Maarja Nuut and The Hermes Experiment. 
(The Victoria, Dalston. 8th June 2016. Review by Naoise Murphy.)

Maarja Nuut weaves stories. The Estonian performer combines voice, violin and electronics to tell tales of magical creatures in forests, describes wide, icy landscapes. There are personal narratives about passionate Frenchmen, or concerning the unusual origins of her fiddle. Nuut is a captivating presence on stage – one highlight of the evening saw her spinning faster and faster on the spot, stamping in rhythmical accompaniment as the music built to a furious intensity, playing all the while.

This was an enchanting performance of songs from her new self-released album Une meeles – meaning ‘In the Hold of a Dream’, deeply rooted in the folk traditions of Estonia while remaining fresh, innovative and open to audiences of every background and musical taste.

From her opening number, a beautifully layered vocal piece based on a charming folktale about the creation of the world, Nuut created a sense of stillness and calm that lingered throughout her performance, even in the frenzied dance tunes that followed.

Her bewitching circular melodies were evocative of the snowy scenery of her home, the foreign accents of her Estonian lyrics contributing to a curious sense of exoticism. Her lullaby tune exploited the layering capabilities of the loop pedal to its full effect, and she had clearly given careful thought to the shape of the set: the final tune had a sprightlier, more cheerful feel. She was clearly winning over an audience as well. There were a few existing fans, but by the end of her set her charisma had won over just about everybody in the room.

The first half of Nonclassical’s final monthly night of the season featured Nonclassical Battle of the Bands’ winners, The Hermes Experiment. With a focus on innovative arrangements, cross-disciplinary collaboration and live free improvisation, the Hermes Experiment takes an unusual combination of instruments – soprano Héloïse Werner, harpist Anne Denholm, Oliver Pashley on clarinet and Marianne Schofield on double bass.

The Hermes Experiment 
The virtuosic skill of each member of the group was on display from the start, with a short piece of collective improvisation. Building in intensity, with dense harmonies always verging on dissonance, Werner’s ethereal voice blended beautifully with Pashley’s clarinet melody, before breaking into chaotic vocal effects and hand clapping over turbulent pizzicato bass, all finishing abruptly yet perfectly in sync.

The remainder of the pieces performed were drawn from their Metropolis programme, which explores the sounds of the city. Hermes have been pro-active in commissioning new work, and this concert presented works by composers Ewan Campbell, Stevie Wishart and Jethro Cooke. Campbell’s contribution, London, he felt fairly certain, had always been London, is a graphic score based on the London tube map. The ensemble, starting at Victoria, played their way around the city in a witty and engaging performance, leaving the listener constantly wondering what was coming next.

Pashley’s arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi explored ‘happy melodies with darker connotations,’ bringing the darkness and light of the city together with a cheerful vocal melody layered over an unnerving clarinet and bass line. Their performance of Stevie Wishart’s Eurostar Valaro conjured up the train journey between London and Brussels, combining serene images of smooth travel with commuter anxiety.

The centrepiece of the programme was Metropolis, co-written by the ensemble and composer Jethro Cooke – the ensemble responding to and interacting with field recordings collected and mixed by the composer. With movements as diverse as ‘First Escalator Duet,’ ‘Docklands,’ ‘Buskers,’ and ‘Impulse Responses,’ this piece showed the ensemble at their best, fully exploiting the rich harmonies and technical possibilities of their instruments.

LINKS: Review of Maarja Nuut at Estonia Music Week 2016
Hermes Experiment Feature from Feb 2015

Categories: miscellaneous

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