Nonclassical – Rise of the Machines

April 15, 2016 11:30 pm Published by

Organised by Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of the great Russian Composer, this was a night that sought to shed stodgy vibes that so plague the ‘Classical Music’ world. A casual, unseated, atmosphere was maintained with the audience invited to wander around free to come close to the musicians, so as to fully immerse themselves in the music.

The venue itself was very fitting, hidden away in the basement of the University of Westminster, this double story 14,000 sq ft concrete bunker has a surprisingly good acoustic, and felt rather epic with two industrial pulleys looming above the orchestra – this was where they tested the concrete for the channel tunnel.


The programme began with Klavicon playing a Yamaha electric piano modded with an MXR delay unit and various other DIY boxes like a filter bank and spring reverb. While tweaking and tinkling he implemented various prepared piano staples – screw drivers, pegs, a wooden spoon and the finale – a mechanical hamster running around the strings in a perspex ball.

The rest of the evening was performed by the Southbank Sinfonia, featuring compositions such as Alexander Mosolov’s Iron Foundry (1927) and Leroy Anderson’s novelty piece The Typewriter perhaps most well known as the theme music to Radio 4’s The News Quiz. There was an excellent arrangement of the Aphex Twin’s Blue Calx, also an perhaps an over-ambitious attempt at realising his Clock Ver4 from the Druqs album, which didn’t work for me, as the arrangement lacked the characteristic filter sweeps and geekery of drill n bass drums.

Prokofiev’s Concerto for Trumpet, Percussion, Turntables and Orchestra was the headline. It was great! The turntables picking up on pre-sampled orchestral parts and manipulating them DJ style. Turntable enthusiasts would be disappointed that they were digital decks, but I guess cutting dub plates is really expensive now.

You can definitely hear some of his grandfathers musical DNA in there, that Russian bombast. Yet Prokofiev junior has a much wider palate, he was born in London and there’s hints of all kinds of stuff, it turns out he was a successful garage producer before going back to classical. I was so impressed I ebulliently bought his CD, but you can listen to it on Spotify anyway.

The evening was rounded off with a rather awkward jam among the soloists, with DJ Mr. Switch, going at it quite naturally, while his classically trained colleagues had a bash at ‘improvisation’. The crowd loved it though – people started grooving, albeit rather stiffly, and the musicians took a victorious bow to enthusiastic applause.


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