Naturally, I leapt at the chance to see a rare performance by one of Britain's best minimalist composers in concert and the night did not disappoint. The evening had been long awaited and a source of anticipation after being postponed from last November. It had been held off so that it coincided with film composer Michael Nyman's 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the Michael Nyman Band. This was his first tour in the UK for a number of years.

Michael Nyman © Francesco Guidicine
Michael Nyman
© Francesco Guidicine

With a band of amplified musicians, all in black, Nyman took to the stage. His piano faced him away from the audience as a harpsichordist would. He is a modest musician on stage, merely conducting a beat and placing his finger in the air with passion to indicate the end of a piece. The piano was covered in a flurry of paper clumped together, which Nyman somehow navigated around whilst playing. His playing style is still in the body and busy from the shoulder down. He is calm and doesn’t move himself too much, yet the music that speaks from the piano is emotive.

Stamina and consistency are two essential ingredients to performing Nyman’s music. The band had a fuel for Nyman's music that ran through their bodies. The persistent rhythms were accurate without a conductor and their energy was continuous right through until the end of the encore. As Nyman's pieces grew in intensity, the performers didn't tire but continued to deliver.

Audience members were given a sheet of paper with a list of the pieces for the evening with a subtitle of the selection as ‘Nyman and The Baroque’. The programme was a range of pieces chiefly from Nyman's film scores but also some of his other compositions. The programme varied in mood and intensity and ended on a piece that was quite different to the rest of the evening's music. The last piece was a combination of four works from Water Dances: Gliding, Splashing, Coupling and Splashing. It had variety in which the slow paced homophonic chords on the piano were accompanied by an unfolding soaring melody. The sound was sumptuous and the performance rich in little delicacies and fast passages.

The power of the music was remarkable, in particular Memorial, which opened the second half of the concert. It is one of Nyman's most famed works from the soundtrack to the movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. In this piece, heavy vibrato strings play the sombre melody in unison whilst the brass and saxophones pulsated in the manner of a funeral-like march. The climax of the piece has glissando, almost comedic drones on the trombones and saxophones with a melody in the female voice, which for this concert was replaced by a piccolo. The first time the bass saxophonist put down his instrument and plucked a piccolo out of his blazer pocket was quite a surprise. Initially the piccolo was too shrill, but this was adjusted later by the sound technician.

My only real criticism of the evening was that it would have been better if the sound technician had placed himself within the audience rather than to the right and behind the musicians and speakers on stage. Due to his positioning, he was unable to pick up on the slight imbalance of instruments and the overall volume of the evening was a little too loud.

Having a smaller group of instruments amplified works well for Nyman's music because it creates a cruder texture and is more accurately rhythmic with the same dynamic intensity as a full orchestra. The precision required for the subtlety of his rhythmic changes and progressions wouldn't have worked for a full orchestra with large sections, without a meticulous conductor.

An encore was performed after the repeated audience entreaties and this resulted in a standing ovation. Another triumph at the Colston Hall, whose season seems to be spoiling us rotten with yet another five star performance.