Can you figure what this music video’s meant to say?

Can you figure what this music video’s meant to say?


norman lebrecht

September 27, 2015

We were sent this promo vid for a forthcoming series ‘Classical Music in Modern Dress’.

All well and good, but what does it add to the music?

classical in modern dress

The organiser tells us:

Musicians and researchers from London College of Music, UWL will be creating an extraordinary immersive sonic and visual world of classical music re-imagined for the 21st century at King’s Place, London on October 7th. Pieces by Chopin, Debussy, Franck, Haydn, Ravel and Shostakovich will be performed on digital keyboards and an electric string quartet and mixed and processed live into a surround sound audio system. This UK Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project is experimenting with fresh interpretations of music from the classical repertoire by taking a leaf out of the book of modern Shakespearian theatre and staging Classical Music “In Modern Dress”.

Professor Simon Zagorski-Thomas, the leader of the project, says: “We’re using our interpretations of these familiar pieces to devise dub mixes, multimedia surround-sound projections and expressive audio visual processing that we think sheds new light on old favourites. We’re performing Shostakovich’s dramatic 8th string quartet through a battery of guitar effects pedals. We’re drawing on Haydn’s playful wit and imaginative variation in his Piano Sonata in C to vary the sounds as well as the pitches and rhythms – getting inside the piano and scratching, scraping and hitting it. And we’re expanding on the impressionistic aspects of the Ravel and Debussy pieces to create sensuous and evocative surround sound environments that conjure up the various magical, whimsical and wistful narratives of the music.”

Professor Zagorski-Thomas will be joined in the performance by Dr. Andrew Bourbon, Dr. Emilie Capulet and Nataša Šarčević of London College of Music, postgraduate students Trinh Lu, Sulhee Kim and the Konvalia Electric String Quartet.

Got it?


  • Tom Hartley says:

    What they did to the Quartet no. 8 is not pretty, but Shosty didn’t mean for it to be easy listening. As for the video, I don’t get it either.

    • Simon ZT says:

      You’re right Tom – what we’re doing is not meant to be pretty or easy listening. We’re hoping that it suggests new ways into the music and we’re trying to explore the themes of dehumanisation and alienation that the quartet deals with. I’ve posted something below about the video.

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    Hopefully, the ‘immersive sonic and visual world’ will be a bit better than the unbelievably crap ‘sonic world’ on the video. What kind of dork would release that on a promo?

    • Simon ZT says:

      Hi Gary – it appears that I’m that kind of dork. I’m sorry that you don’t like what we’ve done with the Shostakovich – and, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting appreciation from this quarter but I was hoping people would put a little more thought into their answers. Anyway – here’s another video that shows another aspect of the sonic worlds that we’ll be creating.

  • Mark Winn says:

    Guitar pedals??!! What the hell is this audio-excrement? I’ve heard better primary school ensembles…..The person who chose this “video” (time lapse camera?) must also be tone deaf and stupid! What a great way of putting as many people off 20th century music as possible……. Idiots.

  • Dominique says:

    Could have pretty much digested everything. Until I read “getting inside the piano and scratching, scraping and hitting it.”

    • Piano for tea says:

      Maybe a case of “Please remember to close the lid behind you”?

    • Simon ZT says:

      That’s a shame Dominique – I think the ‘getting inside the piano’ bits of our Haydn piece are quite charming and funny. Here’s a short extract:

      • Robert King says:

        I maybe shot down by the purists, but the Haydn “take” did make me smile. The reason is (in no small part) because it is well played, so the slightly daft stereo and then the quirky re-instrumentation works.

        Looking back to why the Shostakovich quartet didn’t work for so many SD readers (setting aside that that original music is tough anyway, so it is going to be distinctly harder to get people to like any revamp) was down to the standard of playing – which was (sorry) not up to public performance standard. If you are going to change a well-known piece, you have got to do it terrifically well (which is why I’ve still got a soft spot for Waldo de los Rios and what he did to Mozart 40 – back in the days of Radio Luxembourg). Personally I don’t think that the video added anything to either reworking: but you have got one vote for your Haydn as giving one SD reader a gentle chuckle.

  • David Boxwell says:

    This is now called “entrepreneurship” and “branding.”

  • John Borstlap says:

    The sheer ugliness and clumsiness of the video is an embarrassment for academia in general…. demonstrating the worst aspect of ‘modern’. Could it not be a joke by some students as revenge for some low marks?

    • John Borstlap says:

      PS: They do away with performers, apparently. So, these people have no idea about music, and definitely not what these composers intended.

      • Simon ZT says:

        (D-) This really isn’t good enough. If you’d have done any of the reading you would have realised that this entire project is about working with musicians not without them. The musicians, who range from a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music and others at the top end of the professional level down to students and young professionals who are just starting their careers, all share the common interest of using recording and processing technology to say something new with the familiar classical repertoire. Your comments are symptomatic of the dumbing down and lazy thinking that is sadly becoming all too common in the modern education system. I’m afraid you’re going to have to resit this entire assignment.

  • Eddie Mars says:

    I didn’t realise violins could be computerised to play out of tune…

  • Gene Gaudette says:

    Clearly, it is about the isolation and existential angst of the modern individual in a culture that requires musicians to use electronic effects boxes to alter the timbre and sound of their instruments.

    Or something.

  • Jorge Grundman says:

    It’s a pitty that they forget the didgeridoo …

  • CDH says:

    Is that a club mix? It would clear any club I’ve ever been in. If it’s multi-media whatever, leave it out. Pointless.

  • M2N2K says:

    Very useful video. After watching it, one knows with certainty that attending this “performance” would be a waste of time (and money?).

  • Tom Hartley says:

    Obviously not for people whose idea of adventurous is the soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto playing her own cadenza.

    • M2N2K says:

      And not for people who value quality, either.

    • Simon ZT says:

      Hi Tom – you’re right there. I knew it was going to be disliked by the relatively conservative elements of the classical music world and there was definitely a ‘cat among the pigeons’ motive when I submitted this to slippeddisc. I was hoping to find a modicum of substance in the arguments against what we’re doing but I’ve been sadly disappointed. There’s plenty to discuss in terms of performance practice, the validity of radical interpretations and the authenticity and aesthetics of using different types of instruments – but apparently not here…

  • Simon ZT says:

    I do find it a little sad that there’s so little effort at thinking in these responses. At the first concert we did the undergraduate students had no problem in seeing the connections between the projected visuals and the music. The quartet is generally interpreted to be dealing with themes of dehumanisation and alienation whether you go with it as a critique of totalitarianism or with it as an autobiographical reflection on the desolate state of his mental health. The perspective of the video immediately reduces human lives to patterns of abstract movement. Surely that only takes a moment’s thought? I certainly wasn’t expecting Norman Lebrecht to like what we’re doing but I was hoping that he might think about it for a moment before he dismissed it.