Thursday, 2 October 2008

Kings Place opens with a bang !

Kings Place opened with a bang – literally – as the builders were still about hammering, while the first concert took place. Melinda Maxwell was playing Simon Holt's world premiere, Disparates, a work he'd written for her. It's beautiful, complex and contemplative. Definitely not oboe solo with "improvised percussion". Pity, but she deserves credit for perserverance.

Hall One at Kings Place is without doubt the most elegant concert hall in London, small but classically proportioned and blessed with an extremely clear acoustic. Ideal for chamber music and song. Hall Two is more spartan, but the concerts here turned out to be the biggest surprise of the whole opening day. Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan Centre is the biggest Indian culture centre outside India and is based in humble West Kensington ! Founded by Mahatma Gandhi himself, it's the Indian equivalent of RCM, RAM, Guildhall, Kings and the Juilliard put together –producing seriously dedicated performers. Indian culture stresses the unity of the arts – music, speech, dance, visual. So we saw dancers, heard musicians and took part in a workshop about tala, Indian rhythms, and how they can be infinitely varied and extended. There I was, beating time merrily, but it's OK, Indian music is interactive, audiences are part of the process. Since so much new western music uses ideas from Indian form, it was a surprise that there weren't many western musicians or composers present. They could have learned so much. Messiaen, for example uses tala and variations, Indian "form" created by tempo changes and directional plateaux rather than formal western symphonic structure. The musicians themselves are articulate, highly enthusiastic about sharing their art. They took over the workshop from the scheduled speaker and wow ! They could demonstrate, counting time as they played. Number sequences are part of Indian rhythm because basic sets are multiplied for melody : no wonder Messiaen heard in it the "music of mathematics". Fantastic ! See link below – they do regular concerts and courses all year round.

As for Kings Place, it's strikingly beautiful, all glass, chrome and marble. And surrounded by canals, so a good place for a drink. Whether it will make money, I'm not sure. It's too small for celebrity names, though excellent for small, intimate music. Innovative programming, too. Each week will be "curated" by different people so there's always an eclectic mix of ideas. Consistency probably doesn't matter so much as long as most of it's exciting. Two days are set side for regular things like talk and new music, but will these be enough to sustain a venue without regular paid-for outside concerts such as support the Wigmore Hall ? Maybe having offices upstairs will bring in steady, predictable income so it will work. It deserves to !

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