Since 2010, the annual Reverb festival at the Roundhouse has sought to combine nightclub-style presentation with the cutting edge of contemporary music. Despite the relaxed policy about audience chit-chat, the predominantly young audience remained attentive during some very challenging music.
The main challenges of the 2012 edition's closing concert, with the London Contemporary Orchestra led by the talented Hugh Brunt, came not from the music's content but its length. Two of the pieces – Gabriel Prokofiev's new 25-minute Concerto for Bass Drum and Orchestra and Jonny Greenwood's recent 23-minute orchestral piece Doghouse – would have benefitted enormously from some properly wielded scissors. Doghouse finds Greenwood producing some nice effects, but the leaden momentum gave the effect of rambling through Britten's score for The Turn of the Screw. The Prokofiev was more exciting and featured some fascinating touches, such the gentle adaptation of the lion's roar (manipulating a string attached to the skin of the drum), and in general did a good job of showing the softer, subtler side of the bass drum. But the lack of focus and direction lent a worrying flaccidity even to the most strongly rhythmic passages focus.
There was nonetheless something very satisfying about the programme, which opened and closed with excellent performances of Xenakis's early Metastasis and Claude Vivier's wonderful meditation on Orion from 1979. The former work is a masterclass in musical monolithics and the latter an object lesson in dazzling the listener with intense textural variety. Great lessons; now we just need to learn from them.
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