Barbican

Adrianne Lenker is a treasure for the ages 

You could very well sum up their differing approaches to American roots music from how they were dressed. Both wore cowboy hats and both wore trousers, but Adrianne Lenker’s were faded denim, while Lainey Wilson went with shiny brown leather. Lenker, looking austere and speaking and singing softly, played music plucked from eternity, demanding you concentrate on her stillness. Wilson, on the other hand, was here to make the crowd feel good; a little melancholy on the big ballads, sure, but she’s an entertainer in the grand tradition of country music. Wilson’s set was divided between bangers and ballads, and the best of them were very good You might draw

Apocalypse chic: Autechre, Last Days and Southbank’s Xenakis day reviewed

It was so dark, my friend noted, you could have had sex or done a Hitler salute. No stage lights, no stair lights, no desk lights, no door lights, no usher lights, no exit signs. The few wisps of illumination that did steal in created colossal shadows, giants freeze-framed on the walls. In these snatches the wooden ribcage interior of the Barbican Hall looked demonic. A few photons lit up the Autechre boys, Rob Brown and Sean Booth, who flickered like blue flames rising from a hob. A few more nudged into view the ceiling that had become a vast charcoal grisaille. When, occasionally, someone left, the tiny glowing portal

I can’t recommend this Cole Porter musical highly enough: Anything Goes, at the Barbican, reviewed

The Barbican’s big summer show is billed on the website as ‘the sold-out musical sensation, Anything Goes’. The term ‘sold-out’ is a strange way to describe a production that’s keen to get your business. You’d be forgiven for clicking away and hunting for a show with seats available. What the Barbican means is that this is a revival of an earlier production that did great business. And that may explain why tickets aplenty are available even on a busy Friday night. This version stars Kerry Ellis as the showgirl, Reno, who falls in love on a transatlantic cruise ship. Virtually every number is a classic. If you read any couplet

Even Nelsons’s miscalculations are fascinating: Leipzig Gewandhaus/Andris Nelsons, at the Barbican, reviewed

Imagine growing up with a whole orchestra as your plaything. Richard Strauss’s father was the principal horn of the Munich Opera, and doting relatives funded publication of the teenage Richard’s earliest compositions. At the age of 19 he was assistant conductor of the Court Orchestra in Meiningen, and had rather got used to having world-class musicians at his command. It was the spirit of the age in fin-de-siècle Central Europe, a time and a place where it was perfectly normal for an opera house to have 16 spare horn players hanging around to play offstage effects, where conductors derived their authority from royalty and if (as Alma Mahler describes) the

A spirited attempt to fix a show that’s never really flown: Utopia, Limited reviewed

Utopia, Limited (1893) is a rare bird, and one that every Gilbert and Sullivan completist simply has to bag. The point of completism, of course, is to acquire an overview: if artists are truly original, everything they created should illuminate the whole. But what if a career tailed off, or ran to seed? It’s just going to be depressing, isn’t it? By the time they began their penultimate opera, Gilbert and Sullivan hadn’t collaborated for three years. In fact, they’d barely spoken. Goaded back into harness, they produced a comedy that really ought to have sparkled and yet somehow… well, put it this way: even the late D’Oyly Carte company

Felt like being caught on the moors in a storm: Keeley Forsyth, at the Barbican, reviewed

It took a moment to realise Keeley Forsyth was there. There were already three musicians, faint figures on a dark stage, wreathed in dry ice. And then, to their side, one became aware of a patch of darkness that was a little darker than the rest, and which seemed to be moving. Even when she moved into the slightly less gloomy part of the stage, Forsyth remained hidden: this was a show of startling unease and intensity. ‘Well, she’s spectacular,’ one chap ahead of me said to his friend as they filed down the stairs at the end. ‘Not sure I could manage more than an hour of it, though.’

Wispy, gauzy beauty: This Is The Kit, Barbican, reviewed

On the way home from This Is The Kit’s show at a socially distanced Barbican, I listened to Avalon by Roxy Music, which had been brought to mind by the previous 90 minutes or so of music. It’s perhaps worth saying that This Is The Kit — the nom de chanson of Kate Stables, backed by a three-piece band and three horn players — have absolutely nothing in common with Avalon by Roxy Music, visually or musically. Stables, hair piled on top of her head, and dressed for comfort, not speed, did not look as though she intended to boost the Colombian export trade after the show; perhaps, instead, she

What’s an art form that feels unpopular and pointless, but isn’t?

How did the universe begin? Did the great god Bumba vomit us up, as the Kuba believe? Or did we emerge, as the Navajo think, from a cloud of coloured mist? Or do we listen to the ancient Egyptians who thought the curtain opened on a giant cobra slithering across the oceans? Perhaps it starts with a computer screen: Milky Way wallpaper, a folder labelled ‘History_Of_Universe’ and a sharp intake of breath. That’s how one of the great video artworks of the 21st century begins anyway. This summer New York’s Museum of Modern Art uploaded Camille Henrot’s ‘Grosse Fatigue’ (2013) to its YouTube channel. It gives you the birth of

Unobtrusively filmed, powerfully performed but still unsatisfying: LSO’s Bluebeard reviewed

The timing couldn’t be better. Just as the gates clang shut on another national lockdown, trapping us all indefinitely with our nearest and dearest, the London Symphony Orchestra serves up an opera that’s pure domestic horror — a story about what happens when we lock all the doors, close the curtains tightly, and turn and look our beloved square in the eye. Bluebeard’s Castle, Bartok’s only opera, is a single-breath sort of piece. Barely an hour long, just two singers on stage throughout, it’s a conversation that starts with love and ends with — well, it’s not quite clear. Torture? Murder? Imprisonment? Bigamy? Truth, certainly. Most of us don’t have

One of the few genuine British visionaries at work today: Richard Dawson at the Barbican reviewed

How hard must it be to make music that sounds like no one else? And how unrewarding, often, as well? Music consumption has been refined by streaming services to encourage listeners towards songs that sound like ones you already like; pop songwriters, driven by those same algorithms, strive to write songs whose entire purpose is to deliver something familiar within the first 30 seconds. Richard Dawson, a partially sighted and portly Geordie with lank, greying hair, who walked on to the Barbican’s stage wearing a vintage Newcastle United tracksuit top and blinking as if he’d expected the room to be empty, makes music that sounds like no one else, even

There’s a magic to hearing music in such small audiences: Divine Comedy reviewed

Three shows in a week! Why, it was just like the first week of March. There was, however, little of that last-days-of-Weimar giddiness about these. How could there be, when there were 300-odd people dotted around Barbican Hall’s 2,000 seats, and 50 or so of us at Oslo — normally a packed, standing-only club — sat on stools, unable even to waggle a hip? One felt sad for Working Men’s Club, a young quartet from Yorkshire whose first album — released earlier this month — had critics cheering. They should have been swanning around the country, heading off to Europe, maybe popping across the Atlantic, to play in New York

Meet the unrivalled Sun King of early music, William Christie

It’s morning in the garden of William Christie, and he’s talking about home improvements. ‘I planted three pines up there actually,’ he says, pointing. ‘One blew over in a storm in ’99. But I was able to plant on both sides and create a vista. It’s getting there.’ He gestures across topiary and lawns and away towards the opposite hillside, where an avenue of trees and classical pillars sweeps up towards the skyline. Hang on: he created that too? It’s not unknown for famous conductors to act like Bourbon princes. Here in la France profonde, though — on the terrace of his 16th-century farmhouse, and celebrating 40 years as director

Ravishing and poignant: ENO’s Orphée reviewed

Billy Wilder, asked for his opinion of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of his movie Sunset Boulevard, famously replied: ‘Those boys hit on a great idea. They didn’t change a thing.’ I don’t think you could say exactly that about Netia Jones’s new staging of Philip Glass’s Orphée, a piece that takes the script of Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film and turns it into — well, into an opera by Philip Glass. Cocteau’s shimmering cinematic imagery (think Man Ray come to life) defies physical realisation, so Jones and her designers Lizzie Clachan (sets) and Lucy Carter (lighting) have found poetic, often blindingly beautiful theatrical equivalents. But that apart, Jones takes Wilder’s

Vocal heroes | 9 May 2019

We’ve all read the article. It does the rounds with the dispiriting regularity of an unwanted dish on a sushi train. Classical concerts are dying and if they are to survive they need to evolve, to innovate, to banish (variously) seating, silence, dress codes (for musicians), dress codes (for audience), programme notes, formal venues… But among so much institutional hand-wringing and professional self-loathing I’d like to take a moment to celebrate one classical tribe getting innovation exactly right: period music groups. Theirs is a repertoire with a natural advantage; it belongs to an age in which music was still soundtrack rather than event — an inevitable accompaniment to drinking or

Sister act | 17 April 2019

Total immersion weekends can prove tricky. The established masters don’t need them, while lesser-known figures often turn out to be relatively obscure for sound reasons. Nonetheless, there are plenty of composers whose works are too rarely performed, not so much through neglect as because of the awkwardness of their demands — huge orchestras and choruses, or unlikely combinations of forces. The Boulangers present in all respects a special case. Lili, the marvellously gifted composer, died at the age of 24, while her sister Nadia, who gave up composition after some early successes because she wisely realised that she was no match for her sister, went on ‘mentoring’, in one way

Capturing a moment | 11 April 2019

On Tuesday, thousands of miles apart, in three great cities, London, New York and Los Angeles, 75 dancers will dance 100 solos in each venue in honour of the late iconoclastic choreographer Merce Cunningham, who would have turned 100 that day. It is a spectacularly ambitious wake for the choreographer who for 70 years denied dance a dramatic or expressive face, and threw all norms of beginnings, middles and ends, of meaningful sequence or physical logic, into a bonfire of expectations. This fabulous celebration, involving dancers of the whole spectrum from contemporary to the Royal Ballet, is a declaration of intent for posterity by the Cunningham Trust, established since his

Vanity and fake news lie behind Simon Rattle’s new concert hall plan

Like Theresa May with her thrice-spurned deal, the London Symphony Orchestra is pressing ahead with plans for a concert hall to be achieved at a price that no-one believes and for which it has no visible resources. Like Mrs May, the LSO is relying on friendly journalists to distract the public’s attention from the huge black holes in the plan, hoping against hope that momentum alone will carry the day against all reasonable logic. You can see why they keep trying, though. The LSO promised Sir Simon Rattle it would build him a new hall if he signed on as music director. Its players know that the dismal Barbican acoustic

Chills and thrills

How do you solve a problem like Lucia? Murder, madness, abuse, possibly even incest, all set to a soundtrack of rollicking, rum-ti-tum tunes. Add to that a Scottish setting (nothing sabotages dramatic seriousness quite like a kilt, just ask Mel Gibson) and you have Gilbert & Sullivan in an Italian accent, Ruddigore with a cigarette and a suntan. Recently at the Royal Opera House Katie Mitchell tried to naturalise Donizetti’s opera into submission, but ended up tussling with a score she clearly didn’t trust and a cast who didn’t seem to trust her, giving her audience what she wanted Lucia to be, rather than what’s actually there. Returning, after that,

The naked and the dead

Yes, Oscar Wilde never wrote it. No, Strauss didn’t intend it. In fact, the composer famously demanded the Dance of the Seven Veils be ‘thoroughly decent, as if it were being done on a prayer mat’. But that doesn’t stop this striptease and musical money shot being the look-but-don’t-touchstone of any Salome. A blonde, blank-faced Barbie doll in gym knickers, vest and shiny trainers stands in a spotlight, a baseball bat in her hands. Strauss’s oboe begins its suggestive arabesques but Salome remains quite still, her eyes fixed impassive, unblinking on the audience. Eventually her hips begin to twitch, her back arches and she goes sullenly through the motions of

Bingo with Birtwistle

A pregnant silence, a peaty belch from the tuba, and the scrape of brass on brass as gears lock into position and judder forward. It’s almost worth making a bingo card for a Harrison Birtwistle première these days, and I’m not complaining. His last big orchestral work, Deep Time, showed worrying signs of him mellowing into some sort of late period. Not here though, he isn’t. Grinding brass cogwheels? Tick. Sudden stillnesses, punctuated by deadpan creakings and poppings? Tick. Primal screeches from the woodwinds, jarring against chords of millstone grit? House! Birtwistle’s new fanfare achieves a lot in just three minutes, and it’s a handsome gift to Sir Simon Rattle,