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Michael Nyman – Solo Music and Film: Music From And For Film – Birmingham Town Hall

Music: Michael Nyman

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

[rating:3]

Michael Nyman Birmingham Town Hall Fernando AcevesMichael Nyman is perhaps best known to many as the composer of the music for Jane Campion’s award winning film, The Piano. Nyman is, of course, known for much more than that in a composing and playing career spanning almost fifty years. Any concert goers glancing at the title and expecting a glitzy night of music from the movies might be disappointed as, although the evening includes some of this, most is based on short films produced by Nyman over the last 15 years as part of his Cine Opera series that capture the everyday and humdrum – Morra, for example, deals with two men playing Rock, Paper, Scissors.

During his time as a music critic, Nyman is thought to have coined the term minimalism in respect to music. And minimalist aptly describes much of the music he plays on this solo concert tour. To begin with, the stage is bare except for a piano with sheaves of sheet music on it and a projection screen. Interaction with the audience is also minimal – Nyman doesn’t speak, preferring, presumably, to let the music and films do the talking. But what is most striking of much of the concert is the minimalism of the actual music. It is very straightforward and lacks catchy phrasing – it would certainly fail The Old Grey Whistle Test. There is little in the way of light and shade – until the richness of the theme from The Piano makes its appearance. Apart from that, much of the playing is rather flat fingered with little variation in tempo or volume.

The films he accompanies vary. Some are factual records, for example, A History of Cinema part 67 is a record of what appears to be a walk past beach huts each of which is named for a well-known name from Hollywood’s history; others, for example, Jean Vigo’s silent A Propos de Nice from 1930 that demonstrates the contrast between glamour and squalor in the town, are more surreal. While the music played undoubtedly supports the mood of the films, its minimalism mitigates against its ability to move the audience deeply.

So not an evening for all, and the audience at the Town Hall was certainly divided: while some applauded enthusiastically at every opportunity, others discreetly left before the end. If you enjoy Nyman’s minimalism, then this will be an evening of pure joy; for many, including me, it was rather more perplexing.

Reviewed on 28 October

Picture: Fernando Aceves

 

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