LIGHT TRACE by Catchpenny Ensemble at the Korzo in The Hague

They say you can judge the success or popularity of a concert by the number of people who leave the venue humming or whistling the tunes. There wasn’t much whistling or humming in the foyer of the Korzo at 9.45 last night, not because the concert was not a success but because there were no discernible tunes. But why should there be? Music does not need to have recognisable melodies any more than paintings need to be figurative or representational. Contemporary music is very much like abstract art, you need a different set of standards by which to judge it. You don’t expect a Willem de Kooning to be like a Renoir and you can’t say that Stockhausen reminds you of Frank Sinatra singing Strangers in the Night. Contemporary music, like abstract art, is all about textures, of experimenting with different combinations, of evoking feelings and impressions, of finding new ways of exploiting the medium, of finding new truths.

Based in The Hague, the Catchpenny Ensemble is a platform for exchanging and practising creative musical and artistic ideas. Their gig at the Korzo last night consisted of two pieces. The first was Nikos Kokolakis’s 2016 Stream for Marimba, sensitively played by Natalia Alvarez-Arenas. The composition, using only half a dozen or so of the instrument’s wooden bars, but several changes of rubber mallets which were laid out like surgical instruments, had a strange hypnotic quality as the volume and intensity ebbed and flowed throughout the twenty minutes.

The main piece of the evening was a try-out of their new collaborative composition, Light Trace. But this was much more than just the music; this was a very elaborate piece of performance art, totally immersing the audience in an environment of sound and light. The nine musicians and technicians were arranged in an arc across the large stage, behind them an arc of six rectangular light panels each about 100 by 30 cms. Above their heads, on the back wall, a screen on to which an ever-changing kaleidoscope of revolving rectangles was projected echoing and complementing the panels below. The panels provided the only source of light on the dark stage and their constant flashing on and off over a period of thirty minutes was, I have to say, sometimes a bit hard to take.

The music, provided left to right by a grand piano, an oboe, a cello, an electric guitar, a trombone, a bass clarinet, flute, percussion and two people hidden in the darkness who seemed to be twiddling knobs, was a rich melange of styles and influences. There were elements of rock when the guitar was prominent but there was also a very strong feeling of traditional Japanese music in many of the passages.

As try outs go, this was nicely done and could certainly be regarded as a success – even though there were no catchy tunes for us to hum as we made our way home.    Michael Hasted     18th April 2019