REVIEW: Terry Riley and the London Contemporary Orchestra - 'In C' at the Barbican

Massed ranks of the LCO performing 'In C' at the Barbican
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Terry Riley and the London Contemporary Orchestra - In C
(Barbican Hall, 24th September 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The Terry Riley concert at the Barbican combined intimacy, with pianist Riley performing duets with his son Gyan Riley on electric guitar in the opening set, and the big stage, with over twenty musicians of the London Contemporary Orchestra and guests, directed by Hugh Brunt and Robert Ames, taking on Riley's landmark concept composition In C, with Riley himself taking a back seat role on prepared piano.

The duo's performance had a touching quality, perhaps the nearest an audience might get to an evening with Riley in a small venue. There was a symmetry to their impressively synchronised meanderings through a meditative raga and compositions by both father and son. Riley also took up the melodica to complement his gently luminous keyboard work laced with the tones of his Rainbow in Curved Air. Both excelled in the arts of complex interplay and their relaxed, smiling demeanours revealed how much they enjoyed this platform.

In C is a bit like a large lump of Plasticine, awaiting a unique reshaping every time it is performed. To quote from the programme: 'Each musician has the same 53 melodic motifs of different lengths to play in sequence, each of these for an unspecified duration. They play these independently, the only stipulation being not to fall too far behind the musician who is furthest ahead.'

The LCO's musicians are no strangers to the challenge of reinterpreting monumental contemporary works. In 2012 they added their own perspective to Basinski's Disintegration Loops (reviewed here ). Given the composer's directives the unpredictable ad hoc quality of their formidable group endeavour was to achieve a bright balance between formality and informality spiced with a faintly anarchic streak.

Riley's imposition of self-imposed discipline on each performer with reference to the whole inevitably put individuals on the spot, most visibly the three percussionists whose response included spells of sustained hand clapping, in the spirit of Reich's Drumming, on top of their rhythmic assault on a mind-boggling array of percussion instruments. Winds, strings, vocals, electric guitars, keyboards, including a portable chamber organ were all swept up in the remoulding of this key twentieth century work in an upbeat, enjoyable melée which kept all performers on their toes.

LINK: Terry Riley's website

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