The Evening Standard

(c) 2005 Associated Newspapers. All rights reserved

11 July 2005


by Fiona Maddocks


WELL done to ENO, hardly a phrase that has tripped off the keyboard of late, for bringing Brian Ferneyhough's first opera, Shadowtime, to London for a one-off concert performance, its UK premiere. Ferneyhough (b.1943), shunned by his native Britain, has long found support in Germany and now, amply, in the US as professor at Stanford. His music has hardly been performed here except in arcane contemporary music festivals.

Roughly speaking, and it's not easy to do much else on one hearing, this is a musical meeting of Finnegan's Wake and The Blue Angel. Its subject, in a lopsided libretto by Charles Bernstein, is the cult semiotician Walter Benjamin. The Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam and the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart gave an exemplary performance, with pre-recorded electronics, conducted by Jurjen Hempel. An ever astonishing Nicolas Hodges dazzled as pianist and narrator.

Those who walked out doubtless found it new and disagreeable. To me, if anything, it sounded like a fond musical timewarp: too late for modernism, too early for nostalgia.