When we previewed the double bill at Wilton’s Music Hall featuring Purcell with Korean, Middle Eastern and western instruments, improvisation and more, we had an inkling that the evening might be something special. And we were darn right. This was music making and entertainment that is rare to find anywhere.
First, the Purcell.
King Arthur / the Master of Ceremonies, played by Murray Lachlan-Young, introduced the evening and invited Gamin onto the stage to purify the proceedings with a brief solo on the saenghwang. It was a gesture that set the tone for the evening: spontaneity, collaboration and hybridity all in the service of creative performance.
This introduction was of course not Purcell, and there was plenty else that was not Purcell – from the piri in the front, stage right, to the tuba in the back in the opposite corner, via of course the music making itself. At times it was like trying to listen to Purcell on a short-wave radio, with the tuning straying off into adjacent stations playing jazz, free improvisation or an afternoon play. Occasionally the author of the book, Mr Dryden himself, came up on stage, reflecting the way in which his work was being re-written as we watched.
We came to some sort of conclusion only for the MC to demand that everything be repeated from the beginning, and this he did twice. Each time we experienced something different. Peter Wiegold from the podium dexterously switched between the precise direction needed to control a Purcellian dance and the more fluid pointing and other gestures required to mould the free improvisation into which the music morphed next.
Soloists Iestyn Morris (counter-tenor) and Alya Marquardt (soprano) carried much of the narrative, while a screen behind the stage had Terry Gilliam-style animations projected onto it. A dozen or so expert voices formed the double choir that was Academy Inégales, singing mainly from either side of the balcony. But as one might expect it was the band itself that was the star of the show. Such a seemingly incoherent collection of instruments – Korean bamboo flute (played by Kim Hyelim), shawm and oboe (Gamin), Syrian kanun (Maya Youssef), electric guitar, double bassoon, the aforementioned tuba… it really should not have worked on paper. But experimentation with instruments from different traditions and continents is something that is almost the raison d’etre at Club Inégales and the musicians are masters at making things happen.
This was a performance, an event, that is difficult to encapsulate in a review. Fortunately, the evening was filmed and the results will with luck be available on the Club Inégales website before long. If there was one criticism of the evening, it is that in the interests of spontaneity much of the banter from the MC was directed at the audience downstairs, so that observers in the balcony couldn’t hear what was being said. But it didn’t really matter because the whole performance was a gem.
After an interval of an hour – just long enough to visit a local hostelry for a pie and a pint – came, if this were possible, an even more rewarding event. This was the gig in which Gamin topped the bill.
She started with a piece of traditional Korean court music on the piri (a short, mellow-sounding oboe), and then wove her special magic with her extraordinary composition for the saenghwang. She has recorded both pieces, which are available here.
She was then joined on stage by Kim Hyelim for an improvisatory sinawi – normally accompanied by a drum, but on this occasion the rhythmic playing from the wind instruments themselves needed no further instrument to enhance the pulse.
The best was to come. The two Korean musicians were joined by the full band, which on this occasion consisted of guitar, bass, percussion, bassoon, clarinet / sax, trumpet and keyboards. Again, not a combination one expects necessarily to work, but over the course of an improvisation which lasted half an hour or so we were taken to places that only Wiegold and Notes Inégales can take us. Spontaneous, unrepeatable music-making which you don’t want to stop.