Sunday, January 22, 2012

Nonclassical Goes Large and William Morris Goes Lovely

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Listening/Reading: Radio 3's The Choir and cursing why I'm not in the Choirbook For The Queen; will have to start picking off choral composers in a Kind Hearts and Coronets-type fashion /  Back on 'The Women's History Of The World' by Rosalind Miles.
Hair Day: a flatcap day, eg Head Day: super-stylish, but Hair Day: flattened to a pulp
What I can see from my window no. 22: Sirius, or Venus, I'm not sure. It's shaped like an igloo and has a big black spot on it (Andy bought me a telescope for Christmas). It is WELL spooky.

Nonclassical is putting its glad rags on and getting itself out and about these days, whether in America (Gabriel Prokofiev is premiering his Concerto For Bass Drum out there), Europe, or just at home: the club broke out of its monthly residency in Hoxton's lowdown Troy Bar to host a much larger, slicker night at XOYO down the road, and strike me if a whole world of East Londonites didn't show up. The Troy Bar gigs are always decently attended, but it's a pretty titchy space; around 300 rolled up for Nonclassical's biggest club night yet on Thursday. Where the hell did they all come from?! There were probably quite a few normals who stumbled in looking for something nasty and bangin' to flail to, and a lot of them looked quite pleased to find instead a bubble-haired violinist or scratch student orchestra doing their thing on the stage instead.

The night was ostensibly focused on Minimalist rep, alternating live pieces with DJs. First up as we drank our pocket-burning fruit beers was the lovely Aisha Orazbayeva, something of a star in the ascendent (she excitedly informed me she was playing a solo recital at Carnegie Hall soon), who played Steve Reich's Violin Phase with a Zen-like steeliness. Inbetween, I felt cheerily like a scenester on hearing bits of juice's album (on Nonclassical records, and if you haven't bought it, you SHOULD, HERE!) mixed up nicely by DJ Nwando Ebizie, a new name I shall check out again.

The scratch orchestra tore up John Adams' marvellous (and totally un-minimalist) Chamber Symphony, which couldn't sound more like New York's blaring streets and American Dream-chasing if it tried, followed by perky clarinettist Mark Simpson playing Reich's New York Counterpoint with verve. It was lovely to see people sitting at the front of the stage head-noddingly mesmerised by this piece as if they were listening to some old-school ambient house. 'Cellist Peter Gregson performed some lovely multi-tracked Prokofiev, clearly a 2011 take on Reich's solo/electronic pieces but referencing grime and rave, and one part of which is being released as a single. The least successful performance of the evening was a rather ragged and muddy Worker's Union (the classic rhythmical workout by Louis Andreissen), in a badly-chosen small ensemble line-up. The last piece we caught was played by the Nonclassical juniors, aka Sam from the office and crew, looking - as Sarah said - like an adorably earnest emo boy band, playing Reich's Music For Pieces of Wood, very nicely bookended with some simple thudding beats from the decks either side; the boys should have sat on stools and risen off them two-thirds of the way through when the new counter-rhythm came in, arf. We left before the end, but what we heard made for a top night, fusing excellent, intelligent dance music largely from the Nonclassical canon with brain-titillating live sounds that pleased the crowd no matter where they were from. Onwards and upwards (hopefully with the juicettes riding, shrieking, on their tail feathers)!

A quite different state of affairs was found over at Two Temple Place today, where Andy and I went to check out the William Morris exhibition. A stunningly-designed (though feeling like something of a folly) late 19th-century building on Victoria Embankment, it is now open to the public for the first time. With money no object, the architect JL Pearson went to town on the late Victorian gothic-cute of the exterior and the opulent, wood-festooned interior, borrowing from the Renaissance, Tudor, Gothic, and suggestions of Arts and Crafts: all mahogany carvings of plump Musketeers on the stairs, friezes of scenes from Shakespeare above our heads, ebony pillars, geometric-patterned floors of marble, jasper, onyx and porphyry, and a delight of stained glass in the Great Hall. The Morris exhibition, on a sojourn from its home in Walthamstow, was a perfect complement. What a dude Morris was! An artist, printmaker, textile designer, writer and socialist, I love how he gathered to his bosom myths and tales from all over the world - from the very familiar courtly love of medieval England, all long-haired, fey nymphettes and fantastical, pre-Tolkein imagery to the less-known, such as Bre'r Rabbit from Afro-America and Icelandic sagas - and celebrated them all in his glorious designs, with peacocks and monsters, bulging fruits and writhing roses wallowing around in the lush fabrics. Unashamedly uber-romantic, drunk on nature, and surely a humanist, he wanted to celebrate our collective folk memory, something I think on't a lot.  My favourite piece was a soaring tapestry, based on the Roman goddess of apples and featuring a text that so often accompanied his work (something else I can't help feeling an affinity with):

I am the ancient apple-queen /  As once I was so am I now / 
For evermore a hope unseen / Betwixt the blossom and the bough

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