Sacconi Quartet & Jon Boden – St George’s, Bristol

Friday 7th September, 2018

The 50th gig of the year. Yeah, I know. It’s all getting a bit out of hand now.

I was attracted to this concert when flicking through the St George’s brochure. The write up screamed “Emma, you will like this” so I got myself a ticket.

St George’s has always been a brilliant venue, smashing acoustics and always welcoming. It was until recently a bit cramped in the bar and public circulation areas. No more! They have unveiled a beautiful new extension where there is more space to circulate, enjoy a drink and no longer do we have to climb those steep and winding stairs to get into the hall. It is full of light and height and is a brilliant addition.

I’ve become a bit of a fan of string quartets and of minimal composers this year, so to have the marriage of Sacconi Quartet and Steve Reich was a bit of a treat. This was my third Reich concert this year. Given that I only know who is he thanks to Charles Hazelwood’s documentary on BBC4 about minimalism I think this is quite an achievement. It also shows how far my musical journey has come, that I am now very much attracted to the outer edges of any musical style.

Different Trains is a multi layered piece, the live quartet play over/around a recorded one along with tape loops of various voices. They contrast the train journeys Reich took as a child between New York and LA and the trains other Jewish children were forced onto in Eastern Europe. A 3 part piece, before, during and after the War, it is a moving and compelling composition. The violins and cello are the perfect, mournful instruments to reveal the panic and despair of the war years, whilst also providing some quiet resolution afterwards. In technique this is not dissimilar to what Public Service Broadcasting do, multi layering of music and voice archives to talk about history.

The second piece of the evening was the Brodsky Quartet and Elvis Costello’s The Juliet Letters “not a song cycle in the traditional sense” an album and live work they made based on the letters written to Juliet Capulet that a Veronese academic had been secretly replying to for years. At times sorrowful, mourning and lamenting, these are songs that defy classification. They are neither pop songs, nor classical music, nor folk songs, although the draw from the histories of all three.

The concept was fascinating and the I wish I had known the songs better before I went in as it took a fair few before it knitted together for me. When it did though, it was wonderful. The biting wit of lyrics like “I call you a swine, that is an insult to the pig” and “thank you for the flowers, I burnt them in the fire” delivered with real heart by Jon Boden was wonderful. I would very happily see this performed again.

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