I went to the Queen Elizabeth Hall this evening for a nearly perfect week-night concert. £12 the ticket, an hour and five minutes of music, even allowing for the start being delayed by ten minutes, and biff bang boom home in time to make something of an evening at home. I mean, these operas and that are all very well but don't they go on? By the time you've shuffled and barged your way out of the opera house and into Covent Garden Station lifts (or given up on that and limped down to Leicester Square), you could be home and dry from a concert with the actual real composer alive and in attendance.
The piece performed was Steve Reich's 'Drumming' performed by The Colin Currie Group.
As the piece began with four percussionists each banging a bongo with one stick I began to draft a satirical blog post along the lines of 'all they did was bang their bongos with one stick - a child in nursery school could do that!'.
I do know the piece and I already knew that it was soon to gain momentum, and very soon I was sitting entranced by the repetitive rhythm - or, more strictly speaking, phased. I suspect that Steve Reich is a Marmite composer. I loved his music the first time I heard it. As I sat slightly rocking I did wonder if there is something in the music that appeals to the slightly autistic part of my personality.
I love the sense of rhythm and I love the music that is created from that. The bongos are different pitches (the man behind me joked rather sneeringly about them having to tune them), then the music is taken up by marimbas and voices, and then by glockenspiels, piccolo and whistle, and finally Tutti. Very clever, very mesmerising, and acoustically amazing.
The performance was amplified, not in a rock gig way but sufficient to give some feedback, especially from the glockenspiels. I was fascinated by the echoes bouncing off the lighting rig and round the hall , and the sounds I imagined to lie within them - the aural equivalent of seeing definite shapes in abstract patterns on curtains and so forth. At one point I swore I heard the waves of a rough sea, another time human voices, as if a party is going on down the corridor and behind a closed door.
The whole thing was very civilised (I didn't stay for the discussion afterwards), just a shame about the miserable wet weather. In summer a short sojourn by the river on the way home would be perfect.
The only downer was the man behind me. He spent the 20 minutes or so before the concert started by trying to remember all the football trivia he had once known, probably as a set of exercises to try and halt the inexorable decline of his mind (years of drug abuse rather than Alzheimers, I suspect). That which he remembered he was getting wrong (the England manager is called Angelotti, no Ancelotti), and he was forgetting things like the name of that dark-haired Belfast boy who played on the wing for Manchester United and that manager of Liverpool who declared football to be more important than life or death.
Then he started snoring very loudly down my neck, causing the woman three seats away from me to look round and smile, well, trying not to laugh, nearly making me laugh. I shouldn't laugh, it's sad, maybe we'll all end up like that. Maybe the only thing that will keep us functioning is our little trips out, firmly escorted by our much older friend, who didn't look like he'd spent his entire life recovering from a bad LSD trip. I don't think you'd get that at an opera house.
Another thing that annoyed me. The thing about this piece is that it can end whenever the ensemble can decide it's going to end, not like a standard, say symphonic piece when anyone with half an ear for music can hear the climax being approached and keys being resolved and the end approaching. The end is really quite sudden. And then always has to be one, just one, arsehole who starts their clapping that fraction of a second too soon, as if he has been waiting poised to be the important person who can show off how clever he is to be the first to clap, rather than allowing for the music to end, the heart to beat, and then to clap.