Following Cath Rymell’s excellent review of the first Filmic 2014 show, ‘O Bro: A Musical Celebration of the Coen Brothers’, which you can read further down this page, it doesn’t seem fair to let the second go without a brief mention, too. Mainly because it was so awe-inspiringly great. Just like the very different ‘O Bro’, which was a hoot from start to finish, composer Jocelyn Pook’s inspired programme created an utterly distinctive musical world with a sense of drama that kept on developing from first to last. It also represented another Filmic commission rather than an off-the-peg buy-in: musicians and music had been put together especially for us, and it showed. Indeed, as she performs very rarely – and almost never in the UK – there were several concert-performance premieres. At the end I was so blissed out I left behind my copy of the programme notes, so forgive any inaccuracies in what follows.
It began a little tentatively, with Jocelyn at the piano for the edgy repetitions of ‘Motorway Elegy’ from Laurent Cantet’s film ‘L’Emploi du Temps’, accompanied by the ensemble’s instrumental sub-section. A sudden cawing of crows at the end suggested Hitchockian avian interlopers until you realised it was the man at the mixing desk, Andy Cotton, whose masterly integration of live and pre-recorded sources provided some of the evening’s most memorable moments. Once the three singers arrived on stage to complete the group, everything settled down. And what singers: Jonathan Peter Kenny, a counter-tenor with the voice of an angel; the fabulous Tanja Tzarovska from Macedonia, who looked like a flamenco babe and sounded mysteriously other: all curly muezzin wails and soulful passion. Standing between them stood the divine Melanie Pappenheim, a regular collaborator with Pook since DV8’s ‘Strange Fish’ twenty years ago, and with whom I have been hopelessly smitten since seeing her at Bristol’s old Leadworks in ‘Still Ringing’ by Three or Four Composers in 1997 .
Selections from Pook’s solo albums followed, then two pieces from Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, including the celebrated ‘Masked Ball’ sequence. It was from here on, roughly the half-way point of a continuous 80 minute or so performance, that everything really took off for the stratosphere. A longish sequence of pieces from Jocelyn’s work with the choreographer Akram Khan was achingly good, from the palimpsest of Bangladeshi and Latin voices in ‘Bleeding Soles’ , to the melancholy beauty of ‘Desh’, with Melanie intoning a ghostly ‘Ave Maria’ against Tanja’s melismatic wails and Jonathan’s steadfast purity.
But nothing prepared you for the last number: an intensely moving song set to a child’s poem written in Terezin concentration camp, and drawn from Jocelyn’s recent song-cycle ‘Drawing Life’, commissioned by the Jewish Music Institute to mark the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in 1944, and based on interviews with camp-survivors and on the archive of children’s drawings that remains. This JMI trailer tells part of the story, and an extract from the song the ensemble played can be found 1.50 minutes in.
The poem is about the beauty of nature, of how lovely things are. With violinist Kelly McCusker twittering birdsong-noises and the clarinet of Susy Evans chirping mournful klezmer counter-melodies against the slow thrum of Laura Moody’s cello and Jocelyn’s viola, this was an almost unbearably powerful yet startlingly imaginative response to subject-matter so painful that it can defeat the most well-intentioned of artists. And it worked, marvellously. The C4 news clip here tells more of the background. Cue rapturous, heartfelt applause and the return of the superb band for a brief encore.
So, two great Filmic 2014 shows so far with a third to come on May 22 when Powerplant play their new commission from Will Gregory.