Review: Colin Currie conducts the Trinity Laban Chamber Ensemble

Colin Currie

Colin Currie

“Colin Currie is probably the greatest percussionist in the world right now.”

This was how Gillian Moore CBE, the Southbank Centre’s Head of Classical Music, introduced Colin, who was conducting the Trinity Laban Chamber Ensemble last Tuesday.  The ensemble were performing Steve Reich’s Music for a Large Ensemble and Scottish born Colin Currie had replaced his sticks with a baton to conduct the work.

Reich’s music is renowned for sounding ‘playable.’ Played well, the rhythms lock effortlessly into place and the music seems to evolve naturally, as if it were an autonomous figure playing itself. Show it to a player for the first time, and they’ll probably mutter several profanities under their breath, grab a pencil and begin frantically scribbling all over the music.

Despite the difficulty the piece faces to any accomplished performer, what was striking throughout this performance was the steady rhythm throughout. The percussion was a big reason for this, as the part contains constantly moving rhythms that show the relentless changing of time signatures – their punchy and musical articulation laid a steady foundation for the rest of the ensemble to build on and they communicated the feel for the piece well. The rest of the ensemble mainly emulated this throughout. There were a couple of occasions where entries were not as tight as they could have been but the musicians responded well to these problems and resolved these issues within a bar or two.

In direct contrast to the punchy and articulate percussion, the trumpet section produced a rounded, warm sound. This was perfect in keeping with Reich’s description of the trumpets as a choir and added a three dimensional texture to the work.

Another salient feature was the clean changes between the sections. Currie made it clear when he introduced the piece that it had three sections identified by the bass line – a prominent feature in Reich’s music. This realisation was easily heard throughout the work and prompted the audience to listen out for that all-important bass line.  If I were to be particularly picky, it would have been great to have a touch more of it. This was probably less to do with the musicians themselves however, as microphones were used to help with balancing. As a lover of all things with a big bass, my advice for the sound guys would be to go Spinal Tap and turn it up to 11.

Although Reich’s music is renowned for being difficult, Trinity Laban Chamber Ensemble’s performance of Music for a Large Ensemble was a testament to the fantastic musical ability of the performers. As a listener, you could hear the musicians communicating the punchy-like character of the work and any mistakes that were noticed were quickly resolved.

What heightened this was the atmosphere of the gig – the performance was in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall and the vast, open, yet bustling space of the Southbank Centre sharpened the articulate yet entrancing feel of Music for a Large Ensemble.

Plus it was conducted by the “greatest percussionist in the world” – how could you not enjoy yourself?

Heather Stephenson

Marketing and PR Intern

Anna Nicole, Royal Opera House, review


Anna Nicole sitting on gold throne surrounded by reporters

Something wasn’t quite right. I was in one of my favourite venues in London and I wasn’t the youngest person. In fact, at the ripe old age of twenty-five, I was probably one of the oldest. As the Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten, walked through the hot pink curtains onto the Royal Opera House stage, he was met with cheers and whoops. It all felt a bit strange. It felt like I was at the Opera with…my friends.

The revival of the 2011 production of Anna Nicole, the brash, foul-mouthed and invasive opera, opened this year’s season at the ROH. With copious amounts of generous private funding, tickets were between £1-£25 to get people like me (young, hip, and will never be able to afford a central London rental with a sitting room, let alone a mortgage) to come along.

And it made total sense. The opera is unashamedly about what my generation have been drip-fed; the insatiable obsession with celebrity culture, where nothing (or no one) is allowed to take its natural course. So if we didn’t get it- how was anybody else meant to?!

It seemed somewhat ironic that Anna Nicole and her short shelf-life was so much better the second time. The music, the story and the cast (largely the same as the first production) were more settled. No longer was it about rude words or intrusive production or lack of clothes or innuendo or tits…it was simply about the sad, sad story.

Having a music degree in vocal studies, I’m always inclined to listen to technique, colour, diction and breath control. Well, slightly awkward… I can’t remember what the singing was like. At Trinity Laban, my singing teachers would say that if you do your job properly, people won’t congratulate you, they’ll fall in love with the music. In Anna Nicole, everything merged so well (not just because of the brilliant music direction from Pappano and non-opera acting from the cast) that I simply felt massively overwhelmed. I felt the heightened range of emotions one is supposed to feel at the opera; sad that this was a representation of my generation, and empty…like I’d just had a massive binge of whilst watching The Only Way is Essex.

I overheard someone at half time say ‘the music doesn’t let Westbroek’s voice shine!’ and whilst I agree, I imagine it was entirely intentional. Anna Nicole never had a voice, so why would you give her character lots of top soaring notes over the orchestra? You wouldn’t. Instead you make her an alto with lots of chest singing and put a drum kit over it. Thomas’ libretto and Turnage’s music is snappy and short which gives the audience member an all-too-familiar feeling of ruthlessly browsing on one’s phone- checking facebook, twitter or seeing your latest match on Tinder. There is hardly any character development, but in a culture where we want everything now, why should we wait whilst she lamented through an aria.

At the end of the performance a Trinity Laban student who wasn’t enjoying the opera at the half-time mark, tapped me on the shoulder saying how incredible the second half was, especially the last scene where the cameras go through Nicole’s trash, rat-like- whilst she sits in her own body bag. The bleak and grim image left a nasty taste in my mouth. We wanted Anna to go that far, and she did.

This opera hANNA NICOLE; ROH,  ANNA NICOLE; ROH,ad a large effect on me and I wasn’t sure why until I chatted to my brother-in-law who happens to be a Professor of Economic Geography at LSE. I was talking about my current unpaid internship in the arts and that, if I was struggling to live in London, how were other people doing internships managing? And so, as an arts graduate (with an ex-GP for a Dad and immigrant for a Mum) the class debate began. Neil pointed me in the direction of this thought-provoking piece by Nick Cohen. Just this week, Judi Dench was questioning whether drama courses were now a kind of finishing school. And as this article discusses, where is all the art reflecting the recession? The answer? There is none, as none of the artists with a platform felt it.

It struck me that the reason Anna Nicole the Opera is so important is because of Anna Nicole herself. Regardless of what you think of her, she started from an abusive family home, working in Walmart and ended up a millionaire widow of a billionaire. The Royal Opera House, an institution surrounded by pomp and prestige deemed her modern-day story worthy of telling. And before you rebuke with ‘WHAT ABOUT CARMEN?’, giving the opening night slot to a true story about a character, I mean person, still in the news today is somewhat different. By supporting this story-of-our-time, on one of the most famous stages in the world, where seats frequently go for half my monthly rent, it was giving somebody else a voice for a change.

Sitting in the auditorium with all the other young people felt exciting. Considering the story was so bleak, I was surprised at how exhilarated I felt walking out. I just hope that I can go to the opera with my friends again, sometime soon.

Written by Trinity Laban Alumni: Lucy Drever