The Riot Ensemble
October 28 2018
NTU University Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Welcome to the strange world of groundbreaking contemporary music
The Riot Ensemble sounds dangerous, so I was careful not to sit too near the front. Slightly disappointingly the eight musicians who make up the ensemble were all very well-behaved: no outlandish costumes, no missiles hurled at the audience. In fact, they looked like a group of serious-minded chamber musicians. That is, until they started to play. Then nothing about them seemed well-behaved at all.
Everything about their programme was new, challenging and pushed to extremes. The opening Tria ex Uno by Georg Friedrich Haas started more-or-less conventionally, looking back to a Mass by Josquin De Pres, before stretching and distorting details found in the Renaissance original.
Then things got very strange indeed. Baby Magnify by Mirela Ivičević was a piece of violent, manic activity full of whoopings, crashings and slidings. Apparently the technique had something to do with film, but you could have fooled me. Then came Block Mouvement by Sylvain Marty which required some virtuoso conducting from Aaron Holloway-Nahum as the piece shifts abruptly between very different rhythms. The sounds weren’t pretty, especially when the strings were scraped and scrubbed.
Peter Shin’s Screaming Shapes was different again, each player (plugged into earphones) having to sync with extreme accuracy to machine-generated patterns rather than communicating with the other musicians.
And then there was the final piece: Ayre: Towed through plumes, thicket, asphalt, sawdust and hazardous air I shall not forget the sound of, described by the conductor as the ‘heaviest’ piece on the programme and depicting a large object being dragged across broken ground. It must have been even more exhausting to play than to listen to (and that’s saying something) as it’s very slow and imitates with uncanny accuracy the creaking and clanking of rusty machinery. If you thought the sound of finger nails scraped down a blackboard was painful, then you ought to hear this piece by Chaya Czernowin.
This was a concert which would have wrenched anyone listening several light-years out of their comfort zone. The world of contemporary music is a very strange one indeed and the landscape is alien: no tunes, no recognisable rhythms, not much that could be called ‘beautiful’. It was the sound equivalent of some of the weirder installations in the Nottingham Contemporary art gallery. I can’t pretend that I understood what was going on; I can’t pretend that my ears didn’t protest at times. But I wouldn’t have missed it – and three cheers for the concert programmers at University Hall for making possible this safari into unknown worlds.
The Riot Ensemble
Conductor: Aaron Holloway-Nahum
Flute: Kate Walker
Bass clarinet: Ausias Garrigos
Percussion: Sam Wilson
Piano: Adam Swayne
Violin: Anna de Bruin
Viola: Paul Beckett
Cello: Louise McMonagle