By: Ginnia Cheng
Royal Albert Hall | October 4, 2014
I don’t often attend gigs where the audience is a mix between the affluent middle-aged couple decked out in finery and grungey-hipster youths wearing an assortment of trench coats, fedoras and army boots. But at Max Richter’s Royal Albert Hall debut, this all seems perfectly natural. We await with equally baited breath what we know will be the performance of a lifetime.
As the neo-classical composer takes to the stage next to famed violinist Daniel Hope, with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchesta behind them, the magic begins. The opening notes of “The Four Seasons Recomposed” fill the hall – flickery teasers of a tune that’s graced millions of hotel lobbies, elevators and TV adverts for centuries. But now, the strings are atmospheric, driven by a contemporary rhythm and electronic undertones. Vivaldi’s greatest work comes to life for the modern world. When heard live, the highlights are the floating dulcet tones of Spring’s first movement and the explosive throbbing of Summer’s third. Everything is heightened and enhanced to an epic level by Richter’s laptop, stood in the middle of the stage, as if it were the magic instrument Vivaldi had been missing all those years ago.
The performance itself is a sight to behold. Richter and the orchestra are dressed entirely in black. The violinists are standing and their bows rise and fall in synced patterns across the stage – it’s almost as if Richter composed the piece just to make them dance. Hope wears a shiny grey suit – a clear indicator that he is the star of the show’s first half – and commands the stage with his violin. There’s a few times where I genuinely worry that he will break his strings or bow. He doesn’t just play the instrument, he attacks it with an incredible frenzy that seeps into the audience. As the “Four Seasons Recomposed” comes to an end, the applause is so great that two encores need to be performed before the crowd is satisfied.
“When Max first approached me with the idea of recomposing the Four Seasons, I said, ‘I don’t know…is there something wrong with it?’” jokes Hope. He explains that Richter wanted the world to fall in love with the work again. And as Richter and Hope clasp hands centre stage beaming at each other, basking in the knowledge that their hard work has culminated in a fully packed Royal Albert Hall, the audience are keen to show Richter that he’s succeeded.
The second half of the show is a less memorable but still stunning performance of “The Blue Notebooks”, Richter’s most critically acclaimed work. The stage is lit with blue lights, and 5 strings and a vocalist who takes on the album’s readings live join Richter. When listening to the record, it’s no doubt an aural pleasure. But at the Royal Albert Hall, the ambient, pretty sounds are accompanied by a magical sense of darkness and mystery that can’t quite be experienced at home. ‘On The Nature Of Daylight’ and ‘Vladmir’s Blues’ both stand out for instilling an incredible feeling of yearning and loss but also a wonder about the world, which to me perfectly captures the essence of classical strings.
This is undoubtedly one of the most incredible concerts I’ve been to. Having watched all sorts of performances at Royal Albert Hall, from symphony orchestras to Cirque du Soleil, never have I seen a crowd so spellbound and delighted as Richter’s audience. Even if you don’t think post-classical is “your thing”, if you love music at all then I implore you to catch him in concert the next time he graces your city. In the meantime, as he has hinted tonight, you can expect greater things to come from the brilliant mind of Max Richter.