When I go mad, I want to go mad like King George. Specifically, like Peter Maxwell Davies’ King George. More specifically, like Simon Lobelson’s Peter Maxwell Davies’ King George. I want to find the music in the howls, the poetry in the pain. I want to smash violins.
Oh alright, maybe not that last bit, but it is good to see how shocking it still is to watch someone whack a violin into the stage so hard that it cracks and splinters into pieces. It’s the culmination of Eight Songs for a Mad King, the moment where the King kills a bird, kills a song, kills part of himself. I knew it was coming, but it was still a shock. My neighbour had no idea, and hearing her sharp intake of breath, momentary disbelief, then horror, was everything you could wish for. This is not a gratuitous gesture. It is a key moment for the audience, the players and the central figure, a moment where art and artistry completely loses it. A glimpse into the abyss.
Simon Lobelson is a magnificent King George in this fine performance by the Verbrugghen Ensemble. He makes the role his own (as, indeed, everyone who attempts this crazy work must) with an endlessly inventive repertoire of noises. What I found most impressive, and most affecting, was the way his performance seemed so organic, so frighteningly natural, whether he was matching his voice with birdsong or bowdlerizing Handel or howling. And how the ensemble was gradually lured into being an extension of the king’s byzantine mind, brilliant and brutal and beautiful at the same time. It was deeply moving.
Before that, some sybaritic Villa-Lobos — seamless lines from flute, saxophone and oboe, over gritty textures from harp and guitar — and a world premiere, Matthew Hindson‘s This Year’s Apocalypse. Cue sirens.
In his program note, Hindson hopes that the effect will be ‘suitably terrifying’, and it is. He opens with relentless barrage which reminds me not so much of the abyss as of that feeling of lost panic when your alarm clock goes off in the middle of a deep, deep sleep. You know why it’s there, you get what it’s doing, but you still want it to go away. It’s loud and, I suspect, a little more rhythmically chaotic than intended in this first performance. The horn solo, however, magnificently played by David Thompson, cuts through the chaos with virtuosic eloquence, a voice of reason in a messy world. And from this, threads of sense start to shine dimly through the hectic texture of the closing bars. A good performance of a promising work from this terrific ensemble. Can’t wait to hear what they’ve put together for next year.