Philip Clark


6 April 2018

Cecil Taylor 1929-2018

In May 2002, the free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor performed at the Barbican with the post-minimalist classical ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars. I managed to slip backstage during the rehearsal. It was tense. Taylor, wearing a dressing gown and pink fluffy slippers, was in the process of firing half the ensemble. Bang on a Can’s keyboard player had already gone, and a procession of other players would soon follow. Their sin seemed to have been to read Taylor’s graphic sketch for how the evening’s music might evolve too literally. With the concert itself underway, Taylor ritualistically shredded his sketch and encouraged the remaining Bang on a Can musicians to do the same: they were going to have to improvise. A hapless guitarist threw a rock riff at Taylor, which he immediately bounced back as an open-ended question: is that the best you can do? Then he turned his back on the ensemble and carved out a cavernous wall of sound with his own drummer, Tony Oxley.


2 March 2018

Stravinsky’s ‘Chant funèbre’

In the spring of 2015, in the library of St Petersburg Conservatoire, a score by Igor Stravinsky unheard since its first performance in 1909 was rediscovered among discarded bundles of music. Stravinsky had always considered his orchestral Chant funèbre the finest piece he had written before the three ballet scores that elevated him to fame: The Firebird (1909-10), Petrushka (1910-1911) and The Rite of Spring (1911-13). The funeral song was composed quickly, during the summer of 1908, as a memorial for his composition teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. After the premiere, Stravinsky lost the performance materials and came to assume that, between the Russian Revolution and his later airbrushing by Stalin, they had been destroyed.


4 April 2017

At Kraftwerk Berlin

Kraftwerk Berlin was opened as a performance venue in 2006, in the old Mitte CHP Plant, a power station built in East Berlin in the early 1960s and abandoned in 1997. On a recent Saturday evening, as the time crept towards midnight, I lay on a canvas camp bed in the middle of the turbine hall listening to Alvin Lucier perform his pioneering piece of sound art, I am sitting in a room.