Morricone with the ACO

Every few months the Australian Chamber Orchestra makes its way to Newcastle’s Civic Hall. Last night, the second score performed was Ennio Morricone’s Esercizi for 10 Strings No. 1.  It begins in seemingly monist unity, all musicians playing the same notes precisely together. Eventually, one by one, each pauses before playing their own fragmented versions of a passage from Verdi’s La Traviata. They play very similar scaling lines, but independently of each other in what eventually amounts to chaos. As Morricone puts it:

“I wanted to show that by taking a sequence of sounds (a melody), on the one hand respecting their original source, yet on the other hand distorting their original durations, altering the intervals and re-working the dynamics, the basic melody thereby loses its recognizability, and its original connotations are replaced by something new and very different.”

Then just as surprisingly, one by one, each musician pauses, before beginning to play long slow notes again, this time in harmony with each other. Utter sameness breaks into cacophony as each goes their own way, only for them all to come back together again in harmony.

The performance is as much seen as heard, as the fiddlers performed standing up, their bows sliding through the air together, utterly apart, and, then more subtly together again. I couldn’t help but think of it as a metaphor for other dramas I’ve seen played out. Maybe, Hegelian dialectic, which splits the divine in-itself into a for-itself only to sublate an in-and-for-itself. Or, the plot of a romantic comedy where initial attraction devolves into broken hearts, only to resolve itself again in a more honest love at the end.

In Manchester, there used to be a dingy cafe with £2 grease-bomb breakfasts and gigantic windows perfect for people watching the world of passers by on Oxford Road. Most people sleep and wake up with much the same routine, I suppose. But by the time they head out into public, they’re at odds with one another. It appears to be a chaotic menagerie of dress, movement, posture, as people step off buses or navigate pedestrian walkways. But every so often, a couple, unknown to each other, leap a puddle synchronously, as if performing a ballet. Or, noticing they’d chosen the same bit of fashion from Zara or H&M, two girls fight back an embarrassed grin.

I wondered if Morricone had such a people watching breakfast as he wrote the Esercizi. In any case, it reminded me of how out of unities and chaos, life’s subtle harmonies emerge.

timothywstanley@me.com