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Kronos / Kluster
MDM Concert Hall 
Living in your own shadow
By Neil McGowan
Since their formation in 1976, practically every major western composer has collaborated with the Kronos Quartet. They've premiered works by Philip Glass, John Cage, Luciano Berio, Stockhausen, Arvo Paart... they've championed the avant-garde, and recorded benchmark performances of Shostakovich and Bartok... whilst also sharing the stage with personalities as diverse as David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno. But - how do you follow that? Although their Moscow gig was announced as a joint concert with Finnish concept-music duo Kluster (Kimmo Pohjonen & Samuli Kosminen), publicity attention inevitably focussed on the Kronoses themselves. With no concrete information about what they were going to play, MDM had sold-out largely on the Kronos name alone. Kluster are probably well known in their native Finland - but their fame hasn't yet travelled far. On the basis of this gig, however, it's probably too early to rush out and buy Kluster cds. Meanwhile, the Kronos Quartet faced the difficult task of living in their own shadow.

MDM is a crummy venue - a grotty worn-out soviet dump where time has stood still since 1987. Promoters blamed the single security gate for the 1.5-hour late start, but this was obviously far from the only reason - why had we been forced to gulp-down our drinks to take our seats ninety minutes too early? The mood was already sour when Kronos took the stage, without Kluster, for a very short first half. We had three pieces, plus an opening dedicatory lament to the Beslan victims introduced in English by David Harrington, lead violinist of the quartet. There was some inventive use of sequencing and sampling, and some delicious lush textures laid-down by the viola and cello. The remained of the first half was also introduced by Harrington and considering that the audience was over 95% Russian, it seems to be somewhere between carelessness and rudeness not to provide either a translation or a printed program? However, after only 30 minutes we were being herded out of the hall for the interval, so that lighting and electronics could be set-up for the second half.

To say the resulting sound/light show was underwhelming isn't saying much - in fact the only noticeable difference from the first half was a back-projection of Roehrich's three-holed tantric symbol, for no obvious reason. Attention was thrust back upon the music itself - and it was barely robust enough to support this attention. Announced as "work in progress", it was an improvisational piece for accordion, synth/sampler, and string quartet. In practice this amounted to eight different, although remarkably similar, slow crescendos. Each one peaked and dropped back to the pianissimo of the next. By the fifth of the series the fatal weakness of this paper-thin material was blazing brighter than any promised spotlight. Far from anything new at all, this infantile "look what an expensive synth I've got" approach was deep-rooted in the 1980's - and wholly out-classed even by veteran pieces like Tubular Bells (whose presence seemed to lurk in the background throughout). This was heavily derivative work any 2nd-year music-college student could produce - except that it wouldn't cost 1000+Rbs to hear student work. I wish I could say it had made me angry or left me fuming, but it failed to do even this - and just left me bored stiff. 1 out of 5 for effort, and really must do much, much better than this. If music came with sell-by dates, this was well past "consume-by".

10.09.04
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