An easy review of ELISION’s premiere of Richard Barrett’s CONSTRUCTION on Saturday might be one of superlatives and single-word descriptions. I would include a reference to the astounding energy, technical capacity, and musical intelligence of the members of the ELISION ensemble, which is in fact nothing less than that, and is not to be taken for granted. As descriptions of the piece, words like epic and monumental have been used to good effect.
The challenge of talking about this piece in fact mirrors the premise of the piece itself. As stated in the program notes, “The principal “theme” of CONSTRUCTION is the relationship between idealised “utopian” cities and real ones.” The approach above is the utopian one. While it’s accurate as far as it goes, it says nothing about the multidimensional reality of the piece and of Saturday night’s performance. What actually happened?
At the outset, I can think of two ways in:
1) Research about the piece. The program notes, the list of sections, Barrett’s comments on the radio broadcast, and ultimately the score. The passages referenced, most particularly the foundational Francis Bacon quote from The New Atlantis, which I just found and which illuminates the piece for me:
We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation. We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have, together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep; likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make divers tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which set to the ear do further the hearing greatly. We have also divers strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and as it were tossing it: and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller, and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have also means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.
2) Experience. Hearing the piece again. Going back and remembering the experience of hearing it live. Hearing from others about their experiences of the piece, whether they be from the vantage point of a participant, an audience member, or one of those who has tuned in for the broadcast from anywhere else in the world. Online so far, I’ve found two items: a brief but positive reaction at The Watchful Ear, and The Rambler‘s thoughtful beginnings of a consideration of it. Tim Rutherford-Johnson starts his post by writing, “I wasn’t there last Saturday, in Huddersfield Town Hall at the dead of night. So I can only write a compromised response to a partial experience.” I was there on Saturday, and I had the chance to hear a complete run on Friday. But I can fully echo the second sentence. The run, the performance, and listening to the broadcast have been three completely different experiences for me. What I may end up with, then, when I do start actually writing about the piece, is a compromised response to several partial experiences.
I’ve just returned home from the Huddersfield festival, and this is the first chance I’ve had a powerful enough internet connection to listen to the radio broadcast, which is available through Saturday evening. I feel some urgency about posting something while the piece while the broadcast is still publicly available. What I’ve said so far does not even scratch the surface. But looking over the next few days, it seems unlikely that I can respond to the piece in a substantial way before next week.
So while the broadcast is still available, I want to open up the field to hear from those who have engaged with the piece. Answers to any of these questions might be a good start. Where were you when you heard it? What next step would you take, if you could, towards a fuller experience of the piece? What was compelling about the performance? What were your most powerful impressions of the work? What connections did you draw between the music and the referenced texts?
You may have a question of your own, or a response to a better question. It’s useful to get it down while the experience is still fresh and the broadcast is still available.