CRASH ENSEMBLE at the Korzo in The Hague

If I told you I had just seen a performance by an Irish band, probably the first thing you’d think was that I’d been to see the once ubiquitous RiverDance with their dangling arms and green-kilted hopping. You might think I’d been at a gig by U2 or Van Morrison or even The Chieftans. You’d probably be a little surprised if I told you that I have spent a very satisfying, and often exciting evening listening to contemporary music.

The Dublin-based Crash Ensemble was founded in 1997 by composer Donnacha Dennehy and has since gone on to achieve international recognition with their exceptional musicianship and broad-based repertoire, both of which were demonstrated at last night’s concert at the Korzo.

The concert started with Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion in which the full ensemble of flute, piano, clarinet, cello, double bass, viola, violin and two percussionists was involved. Say what you will about Mr Glass, but you can’t avoid him. His music is like the weaving of a spider’s web, starting from a simple central point it gradually grows, working its way outward getting more intricate and complex until you are trapped, hypnotised almost.

Most of the rest of the concert was solo or duet pieces where individual members of the band could demonstrate their prowess. I loved Ondřej Adámek’s Chamber Nôise played by Kate Ellis on cello and Malachy Robinson on double bass. This was an almost playful piece which demonstrated the myriad sounds one could get out of an instrument without the bourgeois restraints of having to play a tune. The two instruments were bowed, bashed and scratched, squeezing out every last ounce of tonal possibilities, noises you would not think possible – the cello was, at one point, even played bottle neck, like a blues guitar. Great stuff, loved it.

All the pieces were excellent and all the musicians were outstanding so it is difficult, unfair even, to pick out individuals but I must say I really enjoyed violinist Aoife Ni Bhriain’s outstanding rendition of Andrew Hamilton’s Waldo.

The concert culminated in another ensemble piece, the title alone of which would be worth the price of a ticket. Terry Riley’s Ancient-Giant-Nude-Hairy-Warriors Racing Down the Slopes of Battle was the most melodic piece of the evening. Commissioned by Crash Ensemble in 2007 to celebrate their tenth anniversary it was a rich mixture on tones and tunes, yes, tunes led by the brilliant Kate Ellis on cello. Somewhere in the middle she played a very detectable Irish melody along the lines of She Walked Through the Fair but there was also a very jazzy vibraphone part and I’m sure I detected a bit of tango in there as well. The almost military drumming towards the end provided a suitable crescendo to both the piece and the concert itself. If you ever get the chance to hear Crash Ensemble, cross the road to do so, they are brilliant. Loved every moment.   Michael Hasted   9th March 2019