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  • Miles Hedley

SHAPESHIFTER at Blackheath Halls

Updated: Oct 30, 2019


I’m not given to rating events out of 10 but if I had to I wouldn’t hesitate to award Trinity Laban’s Shapeshifter and Contemporary Music Group concert at Blackheath Halls an 11.

It wasn’t just the wonderful skill of the young musicians or even the pieces they played. It was also the juxtaposition of the compositions which the programme notes called jarring but which I’d term thrilling.


The evening opened with Haydn’s Symphony No20 in C major, which might these days seem traditional but was revolutionary 250 years ago when it was written. Conductor Davide Levi and his 25-piece ensemble performed it faultlessly.

In a huge contrast, it was followed by Peter Nagle’s The Congregation Between The Induction Of My Divine Impulse Is Exalted, a reworking of Soosan Lolavar’s stunning Tradition-Hybrid-Survival which was premiered at the Albany four months ago. Nagle literally tore up Lolavar’s score and pasted the fragments around the Blackheath Halls’ auditorium. It meant wind players had to walk from place to place to play their contributions while the strings created a moody background drone.


Conductor Gregory Rose oversaw the promenading performance with theatrical and geometric precision and created an ambience of what I can only describe as harmonious discord. It might have been challenging but it was also endlessly stimulating.


After the interval, percussionists Connor Chambers and Tom Plumridge (above) performed Dominic Murcott’s The Harmonic Canon, an extraordinary piece using a specially-commissioned half-tonne double bell as well as glockenspiel, vibraphone, cymbals and gongs. The depth of sound was sometimes almost overwhelming as sonic waves swept over the audience. Yet often the tones were miraculously delicate and filled the hall with a gentle pulse more akin to a heartbeat than a tsunami. The closing sequence featuring the double-bell swinging round and round on its pivot was simply astounding.

The concert ended with Benjamin Britten’s lovely Sinfonietta Op1, written when he was only 18 – younger than the Trinity Laban youngsters playing the composition under conductor Jonathan Tilbrook. The lyricism of the piece was the ideal foil to the previous two works and perfectly underscored the programmers’ determination to create an evening of contrasts. And what an evening it was. In fact, forget my 11 – make it a 12.


Photo © Trinity Laban