Reflections on Concerto

I am reflecting on the second work-in-progress of Concerto we showed at Lincoln Performing Arts Centre on Friday 4 November. Digesting feedback. Watching video. Reading notes. We spent a week working on Draft One, the version we showed in Leicester, and developing it towards Draft Two. We are now halfway in the devising process and have another two weeks at Nottingham Lakeside Arts before showing a final draft on 15 December. More information here:


So what do we do now? We had visits from Ollie Smith and Rachael Walton, our dramaturgs, and both provided some invaluable feedback and ‘feed-forward’. Ollie told us that we need to break down the text and think about the balance between the textual and the physical. Rachael talked to us about the punctuation of movement and how we might be able to give a physical sequence a full stop. We talked about pouring our weight into the floor and finding moments of stillness. We probably need more silence, as both the piece and the space feel very full. As Pearson and Shanks say, ‘Performance is a saturated space’ and for a show all about music there are a lot of notes. We have tried to articulate other ways the audience / orchestra could become engaged in the performance, following on from some feedback we received in Leicester. The moments of interaction we added, with apples, pencils and musical manuscripts, seemed to work well, and there are more moments to add for next time.


Our biggest challenge now is to work out the final duration and to ‘pack a tighter snowball’. We have an hour of theatrical material and then 15 minutes of live piano recital by Nicholas McCarthy. We will work on our segues and crossfades and edit the theatrical act down to about 45 minutes so there is slightly more balance between the two sections. However the problem is knowing what material to cut. We have weaved a narrative that takes an audience from Verdun where Ravel was stationed, to Omsk where Wittgenstein wakes up in a prison hospital bed with his arm amputated, to Terezin where Princip is kept in shackles until he dies of pneumonia, unaware of the war, that as a consequence of the bullet he fired, is raging.


These three characters: a composer, a pianist, a concert master, are the central protagonists of our performance, but there are so many stories to tell that is hard to keep the focus. We have started using an original soundscape by Chris Cousin that draws out the theme of the three movements: The Exposition, The Development, The Recapitulation, and these frame the piece. Each movement has a different texture, a different temperature, and my feeling is that the three movements need to be more defined. At the same time, they mirror the fact that Concerto for the Left Hand has an unusual Slow/Fast/Slow tempo and our dramaturgy is informed by these shifts in pace. As Ravel would say ‘We have to stick to the tempo’.

Images: Julian Hughes