When you are booking tickets for an event to go with someone who is far more passionate about the topic, artists or genre than you are, be aware that your idea of a night out might be challenged afterwards.
I am accompanied by a Moog owner, synthesizer collector and sound engineer to the Kings Place, not far from London’s King’s Cross railway station where the legendary Moog compliments the Bach Weekend within the venue’s Time Unwrapped season. I love it when classical music is combined with electronic sounds and have looked forward to tonight for weeks.
In Germany Johann Sebastian Bach’s 333th birthday on 21st March is celebrated all year nationwide with several concerts and festivals and for me this is a reason to check out the Kings Place for the first time.
We are here for an interpretation of Douglas Adams’ literature whose first two and half books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I have read during my college years – and remember mostly the anecdote about the loudest band in the universe: They played so loudly you had to, as a concert goer, listen to them from another planet, otherwise it would have been too loud for you to survive the music. When my new Windows Vista laptop at university seriously asked me to give it a name, I named it Marvin after the depressed android in the science-fiction series. Nomen est omen, unfortunately.
Luckily in the Kings Place I do not fear we are in any danger of deafness or death – I have followed its listings of world music, spoken word, jazz, classic and contemporary music for a while now and finally booked a visit.
Neither of us has read Douglas Adams’ novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency either but we will be introduced to it tonight after the event’s flyer already tells us that the book is about “an alternative reality where only time travel can rescue Bach’s masterpieces from oblivion”.
We are also aware that tonight’s adventure will only last for 45 minutes and therefore are okay with the late start at 10pm.
When we arrive at the Kings Place we are first wondering if this is the right address as the venue’s stage is in the basement of an office complex (unaffordable city flats above suspected) and on the escalator down there is already a lot of corporate art to look at, some actually for sale.
The Kings Place claims to be a place for music, art and restaurants but I strongly prefer the wood-clad concert hall to the slick lobby. We take our seats and admire a white-golden organ on wheels, the kind of organ you would expect to hear at a Victorian funfair. I am excited.
I have not listened to the famous BBC audio play of the Hitchhiker’s series yet but actor Geoffrey McGivern will lead through the evening by reading extracts from the adventure of Dirk Gently. He is the one having voiced Arthur Dent’s friend Ford Prefect from 1978 to 1980 in the radio productions. It is the character who is not really from Guildford, even I remember that. To me Mr. McGivern is better known as the uncle in Channel 4’s Back (led by Peep Show dream team David Mitchell and Robert Webb) but knowing what a global phenomenon everything written by Douglas Adams is and what a strong following he has, I do not dare say that out loud – even though no fellow audience member is equipped visibly with a towel.
I am sure they all enjoyed the following quote of Douglas Adams on Johann Sebastian Bach for years:
“I don’t think a greater genius has walked the earth. Of the 3 great composers Mozart tells us what it’s like to be human, Beethoven tells us what it’s like to be Beethoven and Bach tells us what it’s like to be the universe.”
It is not a pure classical concert we are experiencing tonight but – as defined by the flyer – a dramatic (not dramatised) musical recreation of a “mind-boggling tale through Time and Space, accompanied by members of the Feinstein Ensemble and Art of Moog.”
Martin Feinstein, who is (among the head of the ensemble) a flute player who studied in Hamburg and reading this I am reminded of my own flute lessons in my primary school time there, playing the flute accompanied by the piano played by my Japanese teacher on Wednesday afternoons – Johann Sebastian Bach being a solid stable of the curriculum in the local Protestant church. Chamber music and especially blowing a wooden flute did not win you any coolness points when becoming a teenager in the late 1990s and I have not been tempted to play it since, admittedly.
Luckily today we witness far more talented musicians on stage than my 9-year-old self: There is also a cellist on stage and a harpsichord and piano player in addition – both play between the read outs on several instruments short pieces of Bach’s baroque music in geeky T-Shirts.
The wonderful soprano Faye Newton will only come to the stage twice and perform the songs Ich habe genug BWV 82a and the Chorale from Cantana, BWV 6 which is a real shame as she is by far our favourite artist tonight. The singing is the part we actually do not have enough of, it is enchanting, pure and beautiful.
And neither do we get enough of the Moog music, the real reason we came here for tonight: During the whole performance eleven compositions of Bach are listed but only a single one features the Moog and even here the usage is so minimal that a layperson like me knows that it can treat your ears acoustically to far more.
Johann Sebastian Bach is a favourite musician beyond mathematicians and known for being played backwards and forwards, for being printed on Möbius strips and hence looped endlessly – and therefore fits naturally in the humorous, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi cosmos of Douglas Adams. We do not experience the connection tonight though, what a shame.
What would Wendy Carlos say? Maybe: Don’t panic – it is Friday 13th after all.
*** out of 5 stars
Tickets for the venue’s concerts and events vary.
We bought our tickets for £16.50 each in row D in the stalls from the Kings Place’s website.