The Night of the Unexpected at Spitalfields Festival


Trinity Laban Choir at Bishopsgate Hall.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

The Night of the Unexpected
(Bishopsgate Institute, part of the Spitalfields Summer Festival, on 16 June 2012; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


The concept of The Night of the Unexpected  is rooted in the adventurous, the exceptional and the unpredictable. Programmes like this have been featured annually since 2003 at Amsterdam's Paradiso, and take the form of an uninterrupted flow of musical performances, each of between 10 and 20 minutes.

For its debut at London's Spitalfields Summer Festival, curators Ed McKeon and Roland Spekle had packed in the enjoyment and gleeful thrills of the fairground - a merry-go-round and roller-coaster combined. The sequence gave fresh form to modernist classics by Cage, Andriessen and Gorecki, saw scintillating improvisations by jazz masters Han Bennink and Evan Parker, and wavered into electronic and acoustic interventions by Scanner, Philip Jeck and violinist Monica Germino.

The recurring presence of Trinity Laban, in three very different incarnations, gave structure to the event. They opened the evening with mirror-image five-piece groups on either side of the main stage, recreating Andriessen's pulsating Hoketus, with twin pan pipes overlaid on a seam of rhythmic repetition.

In a contrast of scale, Han Bennink's drum kit was placed in the centre of the hall and naturally encircled by the audience for his two dynamically supercharged fusillades, masterclasses in percussive discipline and willful disrespect for convention, as he skipped from military rolls to jazzy jive, throwing in whelps, whistles, taps from and on his boots, with a hello to Dizzy and Charlie Parker, shouting out "Salt Peanuts! Salt Peanuts!" to round off the first barrage.

Stewart LeeTania Chen and Steve Beresford find something new every time they revisit Cage's Indeterminacy. Lee declaimed from Cage's captivating anecdotes, bright with nuggets of wit, each stretched or compressed into one minute with anxious unevenness. Chen and Beresford, independently busy with improvised implements, electronic gizmos, toy instruments and the grand piano added a web of soft texture and incident.


Left to right: Tania Chen, Steve Beresford, Stuart Lee.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All rights Reserved

To mark a half-way point in proceedings, the black-clad Trinity Laban Choir, closely grouped in the centre of the auditorium, created a focus of spellbinding tension with its rendition of Gorecki's a cappella Totus Tuus. Late in the evening, the choir colonised the entire auditorium floor with their music stands for Cage's Songbooks, creating an inescapable communication with the audience who wandered at will around the singers, whose creativity was tested to the limit in true Cageian manner. 


Philip Jeck at Bishopsgate Hall. June 2012.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved


Scanner and Philip Jeck, each performed from the side stage to the right of the hall, illuminating different but convergent areas of the electronic spectrum. Scanner delicately deconstructed Sciarrano's spare, eerie trio to built up a trance melody with the filmic flavour of an LTJ Bukem mix, and brought out an unearthly chill in his interpretation of Handel's Rinaldo. Jeck, distorting the raw material of vinyl on twin ancient decks, released tentative crackles that filled out as he painted raw, abrasive brushstrokes of soaring sound, sending bass pulses vibrating throughout the building.

Monica Germino, working with sound artist Frank van der Weij on pieces by Gordon and Dennehey, accentuated and manipulated the wirey, metallic qualities of her violin with dramatic flair in concentrated live interactions with her complex, painstakingly constructed pre-recorded tracks.

Evan Parker's transcendent finale combined his celestial, piercing soprano sax with Joel Ryan's shimmering electronic foil in a seamless, bonded flux of interactions which left the lasting impression of a sublimely spiritual tension, the perfect ending to a inspired event.

Evan Parker.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All rights reserved


Han Bennink; Monica Germino and Frank van der Weij; Evan Parker and Joel Ryan; Philip Jeck; Stewart Lee, Tania Chen and Steve Beresford; Scanner; Trinity Laban Chamber Choir and Contemporary Music Group and video installation from onedotzero

Curated by Roland Spekle and Ed Mckeon for Spitalfields Music.

Supported by an anonymous donor, The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Performing Arts Fund NL. Thanks also to Paradiso and Gaudeamus Music Week.

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