I had planned to use the early afternoon of my day off to see Cygnet Theatre's production of the The Tempest at my own venue (since I've heard excellent things about it and it's probably my favourite Shakespeare play). However, the offer to see a group based around the hang, augmented by string trio, including personnel from the LSO, was too good to pass up. The hang is not an instrument I've encountered before, but think two woks, shorn of their handles, with a few dimples and a hole in the bottom. It is then played by tapping.
It's sound is quite wonderful, much softer and less metallic than a steel drum. Indeed, they sound in some ways sounds more like a plucked instrument than a percussive one. More impressive was the sheer range of sound such a simple instrument is capable of. It was played to perfection by Manu Delago. His partner was Christoph Pepe Auer on the bass clarinet, which made for a wonderful contrast. Together they are Living Room (a name which seems designed to confound google). They played a few original compositions with a cover Nivana's Smells Like Teen Spirit thrown in.
Then they were joined on stage (well, I say stage - we were in Sweet Grassmarket, so the cramped converted room, with its odd thin shape, was less than idea; that said, from the front row I could practically touch the artists) by Tom Norris, (viola, who also plays second violin in the LSO), Ellie Fagg (violin, who also plays with the LSO sometimes) and Gregor Riddell (cello). All three of them displayed very impressive technique and the combined result was exceptional.
Whether it was Auer's own extended two part composition Lilla Kontrast or covers of such familiar items as Yesterday or So What, from Miles Davis's classic album Kind of Blue, it made for a magical hour. The freshness they brought to the covers was wonderful, no more so than in their rendition of Mozart's Turkish March (the rondo finale of the K331 piano sonata). I never thought Mitsuko Uchida could be outdone here, but now I have another favourite for vying for my attention. Suffice to say that I left with the CD. Indeed, the only complaint would be that after an hour we had to leave.
I always like to hear something new musically, and I've never heard anything quite like this. Whether you have or not, I cannot recommend the ensemble highly enough: it is one of my musical highlights of the year so far, and at £8 a ticket, one of the cheapest. (Note - I'm not sure the London element of the band, the strings, will be at the remaining concerts, though they should still be well worth it.)
If they're reading this and would like a better space next year, drop me a line (I'd love to have them).
I'm not sure I've done a good job of describing them, so why not watch them instead: