London’s 2012 Festival riding on the back of the Olympics (though nothing has yet reached the metropolis) continued at Birmingham’s Midlands Arts Centre on Saturday with the UK premiere of Heiner Goebbels’ Walden, inspired by the writings of Henry Thoreau.
Walden allows the audience to embark upon a journey commencing in the darkness of urban life and emerging into the beauty of the natural world, though not without reminder of the harsh, desolate environment nature sometimes presents.
Much of the work was an assault on the senses and on occasion Walden was as challenging to the listener as it appeared to be to the performers, here the Klang Ensemble and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. Goebbels combined conventional orchestral instruments with the more unusual and strident sounds of steel cellos, table guitars and everyday objects to great effect, producing an intensely rhythmic performance that evoked both excitement and terror amongst the audience.
Keir Neuringer’s solo readings of extracts from Thoreau’s works gave focus to the listener, but also intensified the sensation of utter desolation. Moments of calm and phrases of more traditional pop and jazz motifs were interspersed, though perhaps had there been more of these, they would have cast the tumultuous energy of the rest of the composition into greater dramatic context.
What appeared imaginative and exciting at the start of the performance became repetitive and predictable by the end. Despite not always being comfortable to listen to, Goebbels’ Walden was certainly intense, dramatic and full of suspense, whilst the technical and emotional abilities of all the performers were never in doubt.