Sunday 25th March is going to be a long day for fans ofcontemporary classical music. Last week, I tried to play the complete In C by Terry Riley on my radio hour (I ended up talking over it and using it as background). Coming in at well over an hour, it’s a mini-marathon that eludes easy recording on vinyl and was one of the first minimalist pieces to dig an African groove. But it’s a sharp pop rush compared to the afternoon’s show at the City Halls: Morton Feldman’s Second String Quartet rocks in at around six hours. Thankfully, the audience are invited to come and go – although hopefully with the appropriate reverence due acoustic music and not with the noise and fuss of people nipping out to the bar to get pissed.
Worried as I am by my bladder’s ability to last the full length, my fears are nothing to The Smith Quartet: they have to play it. Inevitably, The Smiths (ha!) get compared to the USA’s avant-garde string section, The Kronos, but there is little overlap between the two gangs of four’s repertoire. Where Kronos can’t stop travelling the world, and collaborate with funky folk, The Smith are more – and this is a difficult adjective, given that they have a fair whack of electronics knocking about in their tunes, and have a John Zorn special on the books – traditional. They are particularly known for interpreting Feldman: that is why this Sunday is special. In 2006, The Huddersfield Festival made up for ignoring his catalogue by getting The Smith Quartet in for a big session. The Guardian Arts Section is still going on about it.
Apart from a general trepidation about the length, I am excited to hear The Smiths get to grips with Number Two... I have not heard it yet, despite my usual meticulous research, but what I have heard of Feldman excites me. That is, he seems to have an affinity with the more relaxed strand of electronic music I got into when techno got too loud for my aging ears. He hung out with John Cage, claimed that his music’s “primary concern is to sustain a flat surface with a minimum of contrast” and has had pieces released on Sub Rosa, who also released Main, my Sunday morning favourites.
It’s trivial to say that Feldman anticipated the ambient electronica movement... or make easy comparisons to chill out rooms. However, I am a trivial critic, so my suggestion for the weekend is Saturday night at Vitamins, Sunday afternoon at the City Halls. And when I am relaxed enough, I’m heading into The Arches to get some sewing machine action.