Voices rise up in rage of enlightenment

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 June, 2003, 12:00am

The concert was only five minutes into the opening piece when a man behind me yelled: 'Rubbish!', followed by the sound of a missile whizzing through the air and crashing with a thump on the wooden pew beside me. This being London, everyone was determinedly ignoring the shaggy young man angrily advancing up the aisle of the 18th-century church towards the singers. I scanned the stage for any signs of fear or flight, but unperturbed, the singers continued to belt out Reynaldo Young's astonishing Ay'tik.

Young's piece had begun in an unusual way. The COMA singers and members of a street theatre group, Cardboard Citizens, had infiltrated and at a given sign started to moan. They then squeezed past us into the central aisle where their moans grew into a frenzy as the conductor herded them on stage. Once they were there, their agony transformed into some wonderfully syncopated singing in a mix of English and a tribal African language. The piece ended with the singers returning to sit with the audience, one beautiful voice left to soar alone in the warm acoustics of the church before dying away.

The second piece was a world premiere of Paul Burnell's Processional. The composer came on stage to tell us his piece symbolised 'the inevitable movement of life from this planet into the outer universe'. The musicians emerged one by one from the sides of the church - the first beating a hand-held drum, the others following with bells, accordions, cymbals and bassoons. Other pieces included Peter Garr's Dead Pop Stars and Diana Burrell's Four Temperaments.

The music scene in London is like the fairy tale of the magic pot of salt that fell overboard and lodged upside down on some submerged rocks where it poured out its never-ending contents until all the oceans in the world became salty. Freshly tumbled from the capital's musical cornucopia this week is the Spitalfields Festival, which over three weeks pours out as many as three concerts a day.

The contemporary classical concert I attended was given by COMA, a group which commissions works from leading composers which are 'artistically challenging, yet suited to the technical abilities of amateur ensembles'.

A spokesperson for COMA gave a flavour of the group's ideals when he said, 'There is no context which should be out of bounds for us. We are well-placed to show that contemporary music has uses outside the special rituals of the concert hall. The traditional classical concert is only one possible context for the presentation of contemporary music, and is as much the product of social engineering as the factory or the shopping mall; it is not the defining situation for new music.'