The Michael Nyman Band
in concert, Dublin
Firstly, I love the format of the band: horns (incl. French, flute and piccolo trumpet) and strings and piano and electric bass (alas, a Steinberger, I was expecting a Rickenbacker like on A Zed and Two Noughts
). A good contour of instruments. Everyone was miked and supported through the PA, except for the piano, which was acoustic throughout. Now, the acoustics of the concert hall weren’t too bad, but maybe it was a deliberate choice to force the piano down in the mix, making it more a percussive rhythm presence. Nonetheless on the several solo pieces, Nyman’s subtlety and gentleness at the keys came through.
The sets consisted mostly of soundtrack materials (whence the pure solo stuff?): Draughtman’s Contract, Wonderland, The Piano, Prospero’s Books, Drowning by Numbers
etc. The first set was rather repetitive in terms of tempo and range: I got the strongest impression that many in the audience were struggling with a strange kind of boredom. They still clapped like mad, though, and Nyman does the maestro’s bow very well in his tails. But considering how acute Nyman’s work is as film counterpoint and accompaniment, without the film and its full context, this music sounded a little bit adrift on its own signature jags and bumps. The second set was much more varied and alive. I had a nicely subversive little brainstorm about what it means to be a musician in the MN band: do hardcore classicists write them off because of the easy, straight-ahead scores and the absence of virtuoso solos? Does MN ever think, Eh, I’m the composer, I’m gonna throw in a g-minor and reverse the score, for the hell of it, occasionally? Because it seemed none of the scores varied much, if at all, from what we’ve received and come to know on soundtrack CDs.
With so little emphasis on personality and interpretation (what other would loosely call 'minimalism'), I guess the onus on the musicians is to make the ensemble work together and work well, to mind the whole sound from the intonation of every note. Which then begs the question, does an audience already slightly stunned tune into these subtleties of interplay and precision? I guess not, since they’re already battening down the mental hatches trying not to applaud at having recognised the first strain or two of The Piano
. Or digging the head-shaking cello player.
I found myself in possession of minor difficulties engaging with the material and performance: which is odd because I normally love listening to soundtracks. Maybe if MN played the Man With A Movie Camera
routine I might’ve been more attuned. Or ready to jump to ovation like everyone else. The ovationary Lady In The Red Hat
made up for it a little ("I recognise that one!") but too late. It was enjoyable and all, but…