Monday, 7 July 2014

Nicola LeFanu

The last time I met Nicola LeFanu was at a performance of one of her mother's works in Goldsmiths' Hall - in the late 'Sixties or early 'Seventies. That she is now regarded as a well-established composer in her own right was made abundantly clear from the reception a full house gave to her new music drama Tokaido Road at the Parabola Arts Centre yesterday afternoon.

An operatic equivalent of the road movie, it combines the words of Nancy Gaffield's prize-winning collection of poems with projections of Hiroshige's woodblock prints and Wynn White's contemporary photographs; balletic mime with spoken dialogue and bel canto singing, and a score for six very assorted Eastern and Western instruments that wafts exotically overall.

The pilgrim's dilemma, of when and whether to keep moving on was particularly evocative for me having walked through such distractingly beautiful places in April - divided (like Hiroshige's way) by rivers, the Danube and Rhine in my case.

LeFanu's work, which lasts an hour or so, followed a first half dedicated to classical Japanese pieces for sho and koto, and recent works by Howard Skempton for the same two instruments and oboe. I went along apprehensively, and mainly because I thought Mini would be interested. (She was.) Quite apart from some entrancing instrumental sounds, the staging and singing of LeFanu's work were exceptional: a festival highlight surely.

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