This incredible sunset right after the premiere of Tom Adès‘ and Tal Rosner‘s “in 7 Days”. It was a like a Blakean smash of light over the Embankment and everyone was stepping out onto the Royal Festival Hall terrace to snap pictures of it.
It all seemed rather fitting after the mini Creation story we’d just seen. “In Seven Days” is a piano concerto with moving images. Or – as the other subtitle in the programme has it – it’s a ballet for orchestra and image. It’s more obviously the latter. Six big screens arranged in a rectangle hang above the London Sinfonietta with Ades conducting (wearing some old-school cans to keep synchronized with the images) and Nicholas Hodges on the piano.
But it’s really the video created by Adès’ husband (how fabulous to be able to type that!) Tal Rosner, which is the soloist in this concerto. The images are – throughout – almost entirely synched to the complex web of music that rolls out below them. Mostly abstract, often witty and delicate, they use as source material images from the Royal Festival Hall during its renovation and from the LA Walt Disney Hall.
Having done the video for a classical music project last year – I’m keenly aware of the problems of words and pictures.
The visual field is so dominant in human beings that it always makes sound subordinate. When there’s something to watch our brain foregrounds that and music becomes background. Music can heighten images but it’s unusual for images to heighten music.
Adès’ music for ‘In Seven Days’ is very lush, almost Mahlerian in places. Either marriage has brought out the Romantic in him or he has realised that with pictures running over the music, broad brushstrokes are necessary.
As always with Adès’ scores you’re left with a burning urge to listen to it all again as soon as it has finished – and I have to admit there were moments when I was frustrated by the images (beautiful as they were) hogging my cerebral cortex. I had to close my eyes to listen more deeply.
But there were also moments of wonder. (I lost track of which day of Creation was which. It follows the Jewish creation story which is slightly different apparently.) But there was a section in the middle with a dark web of green shards (trees perhaps) accompanied with some of the most rapturous, swelling music I’ve ever heard in an Adès piece.
And then a section of swirling golden, endlessly kaleidoscopic images from Rosner which totally lifted you into a heightened space. For me, all my reservations were sucked away, and I surrendered to the sound-image meld.
The ending is understated and perfect.
It struck me, chatting with Giles out on the terrace afterwards, that it’s so wonderful that ambitious works are acceptable. Adès’ Tevot was, likewise, a massively ambitious piece. The Earth floating through space like an ark. Ten or fifteen years ago any such grandiose design would have been completely killed in a shell of irony and distance.
It’s a testament to Adès’ status as a composer, and perhaps of the mutual inspiration of his creative partnership with Rosner, that such gloriously spiritual and BIG music is on the menu again.