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Sleepy, very sleepy: Max Richter live in London

20 May 2016, 15:44 | Written by Max Sanderson

Leaving a gig bleary-eyed and somewhat shell shocked from a 90-minute recital where nodding off was an accepted state of consciousness doesn’t sound like the result of a good set.

That is, unless, the concert in question was a certain Max Richter playing renditions from his latest conceptual album SLEEP. One could even go as far as to say that was exactly what he was after at London's Barbican tonight (18 May).

A night of two halves, the first saw Richter and his string quintet recite his 2004 “protest record” (though not your average) The Blue Notebooks in its entirety. A fantastic collection of songs in their own right, the test of time didn’t work in their favour for this live rendition, which was, in all honesty, somewhat two-dimensional and not too different from a listening at home.

That's not to take away from Richter’s fantastic musicianship as he jumped from piano to keyboard to organ, and then back again – all the while working unknown magic from behind his laptop. Backed up by an expert and tight-knit ensemble, the recitals of "The Trees" and "Iconography" were almost too tight, after a decade plus worth of rehearsals and renditions.

That said, it was impossible not to feel the collective emotion of the intimate Barbican Hall setting rise during "On the Nature of Daylight" – which left a tear in many an eye; my own included. This kind of emotive response is testament to one of the modern age’s musical geniuses, a man who can almost singlehandedly reduce a hall full of shuffling, bustling, busy-minded city-dwellers to a brief moment of mindful tranquility.

And if the first half was ever so slightly underwhelming, the second half made up for all of it. And then some.

A mish-mash of renditions from Richter’s 2015 8-hour masterpiece SLEEP (and its 60-minute listening version From SLEEP), it was obvious from the off that this was the ‘main event’, if you will - the preceding half being more of an amuse-bouche.

Donning headphones and executing what seemed to be an endless array of tasks all at once, as he so often does, Richter flounced between musician, pianist, composer, and technician – sometimes all at once. Leading his nefarious string crew – who were now joined by an angelic soprano – through a tricky and technical terrain, Richter masterfully commanded the proceedings, as does a circus ringleader, focused only on what he has in front of him and almost ignoring the presence of his audience.

I would like to say I managed to stay focus and alert to appreciate this for the entirety of the 90-minute set but that would be a lie. Like everyone in the hall, I dozed in and out of various stages of consciousness (though was not one of the few who found actual sleep) - and the magnificent thing is that’s exactly what this album is for.

As explained by Richter beforehand, it’s an exploration of how consciousness is altered between states of wakefulness and sleep. And in its own special way, the live rendition (coupled with the dark surroundings and comfortable chairs of the Barbican Hall) extended the conceptual element of Richter’s collection from SLEEP into a real-world setting, and to be part of that was just brilliant. It really was.

Setlist

The Blue Notebooks
On The Nature Of Daylight
Horizon Variations
Shadow Journal
Iconography
Vladimir's Blues
Arboretum
Old Song
Organum
The Trees
Written On The Sky

INTERVAL

Dream 11
Path 5
Patterns
Return 2
Dream 11
Non Eternal
Chorale (glow)
Dream 0 (til break of day)

Photograph by Mike Terry.

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