Review – Manchester Collective: The Centre is Everywhere

Manchester Collective

The White Hotel, Salford

Saturday 30 November 2019

A stunning concert of metamorphosis and a curious incident of a dog in the night time


The White Hotel in Salford is neither a hotel nor is it white (more like a little off-white). It’s a former car repair garage, now a night club. It still feels more like a garage than a night club. And it was cold, very cold – to be fair, I had been warned. It reminded me of another local venue, The Haçienda, a former yacht showroom, which was cold and cavernous in the days before it became an extension of Ibiza and was always full. And before the concert itself started one of the songs sounded played by the DJ sounded like Manchester band The Fall, who played at the Haçienda.

I forgot the cold in the intense white heat of the stunning first half, as one piece metamorphosed into another to create a strangely coherent whole.

The Collective performed only a few feet away from the audience who surrounded them. And being so close to the performers (I could read the cellist’s score over her shoulder) meant that we felt part of the music making. The intensity of the performers’ concentration was almost visceral.

The first half began with a gently-sung, quietly kind, introspective Bach chorale which metamorphosed into some of the most fiercely rhythmic string playing I have ever heard, in part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. There were also excerpts from Ligeti’s terrifying First String Quartet Métamorphoses Nocturnes, which echoes the quartets of Bartók to the extent that the composer György Kurtág called it ‘Bartók’s seventh string quartet”. Having just re-watched Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for about the fourteenth time, Jack Nicholson limping through the snow with an axe in his hand and a snarl on his face, sound-tracked by Ligeti and Bartók, loomed in my imagination. The pieces were seamlessly glued together by interludes or Vignettes composed by Paul Clark, to make a cohesive whole.

The baleful barking of a lonely dog outside in the empty Salford night punctuated the first half of the concert; at one point I was convinced it was barking in perfect time with the music. A curious incident of a dog in the night time.

The second half began with Rakhi introducing The Centre is Everywhere, a new piece for strings by Edmund Finnis. She said we would need to listen intently to the sounds that Finnis conjures from the strings, starting with almost white noise. It’s a remarkable piece, with scurrying strings above more slow-moving themes, like the wind disturbing the surface of the ocean.

Then came Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, introduced by a quote from his diary, written as he sat in the ruins of Munich at the end of WWII,

The most terrible period of human history is at an end, the twelve-year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany’s 2000 years of cultural evolution met its doom.

Originally written as a piece for 23 solo strings, it metamorphosed into something entirely different in this version for seven solo strings. The post-Romantic, smeared, almost surreal blur of the original became at times as limpid as a Haydn string quartet, every line sparklingly clear. A revelation.

Bach Selected Chorales
Clark Vignettes
Ligeti Métamorphoses nocturnes
Vivaldi Four Seasons
Finnis The Centre is Everywhere
Strauss Metamorphosen

Rakhi Singh Solo Violin

Violin Steve Proctor, Caroline Pether, Helena Buckie, Will Newell, Will McGahon
Viola Ruth Gibson, Kimi Makino, Kay Stephen
Cello Peggy Nolan, Will Hewer
Bass Sam Becker

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