Matthew Bourne – Photo by Briony Campbell

Written/Unwritten: London Sinfonietta @ Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London

Southbank CentreI’m always keen to hear concerts that attempt to fuse genres and London Sinfonietta’s Written/Unwritten concert at the Purcell Room – as part of the London Jazz Festival – did just that. It brought together players from the ensemble with two jazz musicians – pianist Matthew Bourne and jazz percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. The programme is prefaced by an introduction to the concept of this Written/Unwritten event – “What happens when you give a group of musicians the chance to write their own music? … What happens if you put classical and non-classical musicians in a room together for several days and ask them to explore, create and produce music a concert at the Southbank Centre? Find out tonight …”

Matthew Bourne – Photo by Briony Campbell

The programme opened with a colourful and rhythmically vibrant performance of Xenakis’ Rebonds B for solo percussion by Oliver Lowe. An engaging work that was given a well paced and virtuosic performance. Charisma – Xenakis’ work for clarinet and ‘cello – was sensitively performed with real care for the colours and shape; Katherine Lacy (clarinet) and Lucy Railton (‘cello) were superb at capturing the sonic landscape with intensity and precision. Between these two works was a succinct piece by Tarasov for violin and bass. Max Baille produced a wonderful sound that did much to sell this brief piece with Richard Pryce on bass. Titled Adagio from Concert for Flies, one was left with little ambiguity that this title fitted the music well. The first half ended with two more works by Tarasov; Mechanism’s Interior – performed by Lowe and the composer – was a brief essay in the alternation of chords on the vibraphone and sounds on an extended drum kit and other instruments performed by Tarasov and Lowe. An uncertain close in this work left the audience equally uncertain whether to applaud. The extended ensemble work that closed the first half  displayed the juxtaposition of sustained chords and rapid flourishes for the most part but there were some beautifully controlled moments that displayed skilful woodwind playing. The composer controlled the performance with aplomb from his percussion setup though it was David Cuthbert (flute) that did much to assist leading the ensemble. A few members of the audience felt it appropriate to leave during the first half and even during some of the improvised performances.

Vladimir Tarasov – Photo by Vladimiras Ivanovas

Matthew Bourne improvised an aggressive interlude – in the second half of this concert – between two solo Berio works. Katherine Lacy brought lyricism and a huge dynamic range and colour to Lied (1983) while Lucy Railton’s performance of Les Mots sont allés (1976) showed a keen awareness of the structure and timbral control necessary to make this rather engaging. It worked well to segue these three works – Bourne’s virtuosic display encased by the Berio works. The extended ensemble work that followed – led by Bourne – started as faux early 19th century music that went into a lengthy improvised performance that displayed fascinating sonorities and was clearly structured with care. The close gave a strong resolution to the real breadth of sound worlds found in this work. The concert ended with an improvised work by all the performers – joined by Tarasov. Yet again an uncertain close left the audience delaying their applause and it was clear Bourne had plenty of support in the audience.

The synergy between the classical and jazz musicians appeared to have been successful and there was a thriving sense of cohesion in much of what was created. This concert was programmed with care and the written works fitted well with a feeling that the improvised pieces flowed naturally from the Berio and Xenakis. A shame several members of the audience felt it necessary to leave during the improvised performances and I was left wondering what disengaged some listeners in these works. Programme notes would have been welcome to allow more engagement with the process but perhaps an event part of a Jazz Festival needed something less formal.

Steven Berryman is a composer and teacher working and living in London. Follow him on Twitter: @Steven_Berryman