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Solem Quartet + Alice Zawadzki – Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Through the Noise are comparative newcomers on the promotion scene with their noisenight concerts, now nearing 100 in all. The idea is to crowdfund events with mainly classical artists and present them in independent venues, several of them in Leeds, enabling the audience to get up close with the performers. Another way of looking at it would be a successful attempt to bridge the gap between classical and popular.

How many string quartets have you heard playing in a room above a self-described “canteen” packed with young people to an audience (rather less young) standing around or perched on settees? The dry ice before the start was an unnecessary addition, but generally all worked well – and the Solem Quartet seemed to enjoy the experience as much as the audience.

The first half was devoted to Steve Reich’sDifferent Trains from 1988, a personal and unexpectedly powerful response to the Holocaust. At the same time as the infant Reich and his governess were making coast to coast journeys in the States to spend time with his divorced parents, Jews in Europe, including children of Reich’s age, were being transported in cattle trucks towards, in many cases, death. Reich produced a half-hour mixture of live string quartet and a sound tape with spoken contributions from his governess, a Pullman porter and survivors of the Holocaust added to sounds of pre-recorded string quartet and assorted train noises.

It’s not easy to pick out the contribution of the live string quartet in this wonderful mix of sounds – train whistles, a chugging train rhythm establishing a minimalist base for the Trains in the USA section, spoken word picked up by viola and cello in melodic fragments – but the overall effect was overwhelming as the switch came to Trains in Europe. Ultimately the pulsating rhythms ended – and so did the piece.

Another icon of the 1980s (and beyond) took us into the second half: Kate Bush, but presented with lush accompaniment from string quartet in 2nd violinist William Newell’s evocative arrangements. Alice Zawadzki now joined the quartet as vocalist and even took up her violin to accompany herself in a Jewish chant followed by an exhilarating dance melody. Newell’s scores often provided a counter-melody to Zawadzki’s soaring vocals which added a touch of passion to Bush’s original surreal sound. From the opening Cloudbuster where the Solem Quartet seemed to be re-discovering their hidden baroque to Running Up That Hill with Zawadzki declamatory over sympathetic strings, the songs emerged fresh-minted.

Reviewed on 29th March 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Informal magic

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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