Live reviews - July 2001

Phillip Glass

"Music from the screens"

The 20th Century experienced more musical trends and technological developments then any other; Phillip Glass over the last 50 years was one of the reasons. His music is misleadingly described as "minimalist", however I’ve always found it utterly enriching and poetic.

When I was student our music lecturers would talk of Phillip Glass briefly but with the utmost respect, I often wondered why they never elaborated much until last night when I watched him perform with a small and colourful ensemble at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall. It’s there to be experienced in the first person. For people who’ve never heard of Phillip Glass, his music may well have reached you unconsciously, for instance while you were watching Kundun or the Trueman Show at the cinema (for which he won a Golden Globe). This merely scratches the surface of a living legend and tonight once again I am a student.

"Music from the screens" are short soundtracks that originally accompanied John Garnets’ 1989 production "the screens" but now the term is used for live performances of scores for theatre and film.

5 virtuosos including Glass sit assuredly in a line. A master percussionist who even made dried seaweed sound rhythmic and beautiful, a violinist, a clarinet and Foday Musa Suso (yes that’s his name!) who is a Kora master from Gambia. The Kora sounds like a cross between a harp and a thumb piano (looks a bit like a sitar that is played upright).

For most of the show my eyes were closed but captivated because I just couldn’t help but visualise my own movie ideas for the compositions ranging from balcony love scenes, nests of ants swarming over a rotten apple core and haunted graveyard lullabies.

When one deconstructs Phillip Glass’s music you will usually find that each instrument has a short and simple theme (often arpegios) that repeats itself indefinitely. Other instruments have there own unique cycle and join in one by one in layers over the first, until a hive of ambience whirls like a laboratory that bubbles with weird and wonderful chemicals. Slowly one instrument will change its velocity or stop and this effectively but subtly gives the piece a new direction without changing chords or notes. I imagine Phillip Glass as the noise that accompanies the activity of D.N.A strands combining and separating furiously forming the building blocks of sound and humanity respectively.

Na’im Cortazzi

June 1st 2001


Vonda Shepherd

I'll level with you. It was a bit of a worry, me having to review this gig. The thing is, what do I know about Vonda Shepherd? Erm….something to do with Ally McBeal apparently. Apart from that I have had sadly very little knowledge about the woman until now. Better wait until she takes the stage before I comment then….oh s***….she already has. We're some fifteen minutes later after struggling to find a parking space anywhere and our row is forced to be the only one standing as they let us pass to our seats.

To their credit everyone is quite amicable - except for Mr and Mrs Faceache who we have had the sheer audacity to sit next to! I don't know, there are murders and rapes taking place all over the shop and this woman next to us thinks turning up to a concert slightly late is a hanging offence! Anyway, to the music. Vonda Shepherd has a very down to earth, friendly on-stage persona and in places her stuff sounds like Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, Joan Baez, Sheryl Crow, Aimee Mann and quite often Sophie B Hawkins. There are times when she drifts dangerously close to Whitney Houston but I'll choose to overlook those warbly bits out of fairness to the girl. Looking very fetching in a tight blue/green top and cowgirl like trousers with stripes down the side, Vonda Shepherd delivered a set that was sometimes moving, sometimes mellow and chilled, on occasion rousing and always entertaining. I have to admit though, when she asked the audience if we all had her last album I felt quite guilty and as though I should have shouted back "No. I have never heard anything you've done and I've never seen Ally McBeal". Maybe it's best that I didn't though. A very enjoyable evening all in all, not that the faceache twins would have you believe that. They never moved all night, bar the constant "Tut tut" that emanated frequently from their mouths.

Tone E



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