London – Barbican (15th October 2011)

Synergy represented by:

L-R: Andrew Busher, Amy Haworth, Phillip Conway Brown, Rachel Weston, Simon Grant, Heather Cairncross, Tom Bullard, Micaela Haslam, Claire Underwood, Amanda Morrison

“It’s always a real treat to work with the LSO, so we’d been looking forward to this project for a while. The Desert Music doesn’t come up very often. It’s a big piece to put on, but so exhilarating to play and listen to, I wish more orchestras would give it a go. It may also be that programmers look at the score and worry that they’ll need a massive orchestra and a huge chorus. In Synergy, we use ten individual amplified singers, which works equally well with the full orchestral version and the reduced version (more manageable for smaller orchestras) – and we take up hardly any room on stage!

Our first rehearsal with the orchestra and the conductor Kristjan Järvi was at St Luke’s – the LSO’s current base. With all the extra percussion, keyboards and brass involved in this full version, we were completed packed in there – singers right at back, miles away from the conductor.

The difficulty for us was that we couldn’t hear the six marimba players who were right at the front, under the conductor’s nose. Steve Reich puts them there for a good reason – they are the rhythmic “engine” of the piece. Keeping such a large body of players together, ticking along at the same speed is no mean feat, and Kristjan clearly felt the need to beat ahead some of the time, in an effort to stop the piece from slowing down. The problem for us was that we couldn’t hear anything rhythmic (apart from ourselves in our monitors), so the only tempo we could take was Kristjan’s literal beat. That meant that our supposedly constant rhythmic patterns got a little bit sea-sick! In the end, we managed to persuade our lovely sound engineer, Ian Dearden, to put microphones on a couple of the marimbas – not for amplification, but simply to relay their sound into our monitors, thereby putting us in touch with the front of the stage. That was very helpful for us, but the poor keyboard players were still out on a limb. They needed to keep in time with us and the marimbas, but didn’t have monitors, so could hear neither. It must have been very frustrating for them – but they did brilliantly in the circumstances.

Waiting for the conductor

We were hoping that the Barbican might prove easier than St Luke’s, acoustically speaking, and indeed the morning rehearsal did feel a lot safer. By this stage we were feeling quite self-sufficient, having realised that we were pretty much on our own at the back! Kristjan referred to us as “the chorus”, which was mildly irritating – because we’re not a chorus, and we do have a name – but I decided to forgive him as he had recorded the piece recently with another orchestra and chorus, and apparently he wasn’t feeling very well.

The Barbican was packed for this Reich-fest and of course the great man himself was there, starting the concert with Clapping Music, ably assisted by Neil Percy.

Neil Percy with Steve Reich

Though I say it myself, we all did really well in the performance – particularly Amy and Mandy on the horrendously high top soprano line. We managed to keep together, though the first few bars of the piece were a bit of a surprise. It started well, the tempo was good, the keyboards were on track, then Kristjan seemed to speed up almost instantly. A bit of adrenalin is good for a live performance, but there was a bit too much of it on page one for my liking! Still, the LSO was marvellous, we all made it to the end in one piece, the audience was happy, and so was Steve – which is the main thing.

Kristjan Järvi with Steve Reich

The LSO is one of our favourite orchestras to work with. We always have fun in rehearsals, and we have many good friends among the players. Roll on next month when we have another project with them – accompanying a famous old silent film – very exciting!”


Posted in Tour Diaries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *