Review: Different Trains by Mr McFall’s Chamber with Luxmuralis at the Lichfield Garrick

A hot night, perfect for a cool programme of moderns from the neatly-curated musical Artists in Residence of this year’s Lichfield Festival, promising visuals – from Luxmuralis – as an unusual accompaniment to a chamber orchestra.

Samuel Barber’s String Quartet Op. 11 pointed the evening in the right direction with some crisp phrasing, especially so in the deep and powerfully moving Adagio. Next John Adams’ She’s So Fine (one of two – the other was Toot Nipple) saw music as a game preoccupied with rhythms that were urgently busy.

After the interval the promised visuals kicked in with John Adams’ Habanera that gave a sort of kaleidoscopic treatment to the religious patterning common to Arabic tiles most notably visible in Europe at Granada’s Alhambra Palace.

But I have to confess that what had actually initially lured me to this concert was the final item, Steve Reich’s Different Trains which promised visual treats alongside.

Expecting a triumph of minimalism, I suspect I’d already subconsciously decided this work might well do with perking up by some clever visuals. It began well, treating music as a game that employed the rhythms of life, its train-referencing apparent in the urgent busyness, preoccupied, distantly absorbed.

The festival programme intriguingly promised “interviews with train passengers across America and Europe before, during and after the Second World War” but in actuality these were often single words repeated and repeated until they seemed to have no content, while in practice the graphics – filmed from trains – of tracks going away and coming towards, plus repeated images of anonymous buildings superimposed upon each other, were themselves minimalist, which sadly meant in practice repetitive to a point well beyond boredom. This may have been making the point that we have become over-familiar with the rapidly changing imagery of film and television unlike previous eras, but to be frank, Warhol dug this dosh-lined ditch a good while ago with his silk screens of dollar bills but went further with his Death and Destruction series of grainy prints of electric chair executions and his 24 hour static-camera film of the Empire State Building.

After a while there was a sort of restful quality to the purported restlessness here, (ideas perhaps of migration?) but for me this never actually paid off. I guess minimalism here really did mean less.

An encore won warm applause from a discerning audience who enjoyed an evening well out of the common.

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2 Comments

  1. Stoker Ted

    12th July, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Priceless ‘Different Trains’ review. Whooooshhh!

  2. Steven Norman

    12th July, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    I have to say I thought Different Trains was hypnotic and the whistles produced by the violins quite astonishing whilst the cellist frenetically imitating the wheels.

    Yes, the visuals by local Luxmuralis were minimalist but I did not know what to expect having heard this piece on BBC Radio 3 a few months ago and grabbed the opportunity to hear it during the festival. I thought I would see examples from the newsreels of trains to Auschwitz etc and there is an example on YouTube. But it doesn’t work.

    Luxmuralis’s visuals complemented the tape and the Mr McFall Chamber and I think the pace worked perfectly. Look up at the screen. Look down at the musicians. No clash just perfect harmony and a performance I will be thinking of many years from now.

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