PREVIEW: The Edge of the Abyss: EFG London Jazz Festival performance featuring Club Inégales (Royal Academy of Art, 16 November 2018)

Death and the Maiden by Egon Schiele, 1915
Public Domain

The Uncertain Hour is a five-concert series including two dates at the London Jazz Festival presented by Club Inégales. AJ Dehany spoke to director Peter Wiegold.

One of the flashpoints in the creation of the modern world, fin de siècle Vienna was the crucible in which the nineteenth century transformed itself into the twentieth. Vienna’s creative jouissance and role as a place of artistic, musical and intellectual foment will be celebrated and explored in the forthcoming concert The Edge of the Abyss at the Royal Academy of Art on the first night of the 2018 London Jazz Festival.

The concert is named after a quote from Stravinsky, who wrote that while composing the Rite of Spring between 1912-13 he felt “on the edge of an abyss.” During the concert presented by Club Inégales, director Peter Wiegold will discuss the wider sense of rupture leading up to this. He says “I’m going to talk about ‘From Certainty to Uncertainty’: you have the class system challenged by Marx, the work of Darwin, science challenged by Einstein, the nature of the persona challenged by Freud. I love reflecting on that time, from fixed ideas of humanness and social status to the fluidity of the twentieth century.”

The concert will be performed by a quartet with Peter Wiegold and Martin Butler on pianos, saxophonist Diane McLoughlin, and vocalist and violinist Alice Zawadzki. “We’re going to start from two of the breakaways of the twentieth century, Schoenberg and Stravinsky. We’ve got this rather interesting idea where we play an old recording of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912), and then it fades and we carry on improvising so it’s like playing with a ghost of it. We’ll play off the motifs and the sounds of Pierrot Lunaire, all representing the unpredictable night of the new century.”

The concert will include Stravinsky’s short piece from 1918, Ragtime. “Stravinsky blew harmonic language completely open with the Rite of Spring,” he says. “We go off from Ragtime into more classical and jazz-funk approaches meeting together, and there’s the other side—there’s the chromatic avant-garde side and then there’s the rhythmic side of the twentieth century and both of them launched at that time.”

Last year Club Inégales presented a sell-out show at the RA performing original graphic scores inspired by an exhibition of painter Jasper Johns. The Edge of the Abyss is in part a response to the RA’s current exhibition Klimt / Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum, Vienna. “You’ve got the gold and the glitter and the sumptuousness of Klimt, who in a way represents the richness of Vienna, and you have the absolute bare human beings of Schiele who represents its tortured soul.”

The Edge of the Abyss is part of a series of five concerts called The Uncertain Hour. The name is taken from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets:

“In the uncertain hour before the morning/ Near the ending of interminable night/ At the recurrent end of the unending.” 

The lines encapsulate not just the feeling of beginning and ending in fin de siècle Vienna, but other historical flashpoints too. Last week the series opened with a concert of Brecht & Weill. “I’ve often been interested in text, image and the social place of music, how music tells us about society or even speaks of society like Brecht does.” In planning the series, he says, “once we had the ‘uncertain hour’ of just before the Second World War with Brecht and Weill, suddenly the whole series fell into shape.”

Following the concert at the Royal Academy the series will continue with Expect The Unexpected II presenting original collaborations on the Thursday of the Festival. Then we travel a long way from Europe with a concert from Peter Knight, director of the Australian Art Orchestra, about getting lost in the Australian desert. The series concludes with the launch of folk-singer Sam Lee’s album Van Diemen’s Land. Referencing the attenuated figures in Egon Schiele’s paintings, Peter Wiegold says that the series as a whole is “about these stretched human beings going beyond, going into the unknown, the uncertain.”

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

LINKS: The Edge of the Abyss at the RA website
REVIEW: Visualising Music: The Art of the Graphic Score at the RA in the 2017 EFG LJF

Categories: Previews

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