The BBC 6 Music Prom consisted of two acts, A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Nils Frahm, both of whom use traditional instruments (strings, brass and piano) in amongst a great deal of bass-heavy sampled sound. The artists appeared to think the sounds they made would be ‘classical’ music as long as they included those instruments, particularly if they hunched over the piano in an "I'm a complicated genius" playing pose. But bad posture and occasional dissonance do not a maestro make. I began to wonder whether this music was in fact as boring to play as it was to listen to.

Dancers from Company Wayne McGregor perform with A Winged Victory for the Sullen © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Dancers from Company Wayne McGregor perform with A Winged Victory for the Sullen
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

A Winged Victory for the Sullen incorporated a string quartet and London Brass, playing slow chords slowly resolving into more chords. Their album's title, Atomos, means "uncuttable" in ancient Greek, presumably because their long, shapeless tracks are so devoid of structural intent that it would hardly matter where you did or didn't end them. Occasionally, it got actively bad as opposed to merely boring. There is so much of this style of music in the world already: do we honestly need more? Chuck in a few waterfall sounds, or add a dash of Native American Indian chanting, and we could have been in a corporate relaxation centre instead of the Royal Albert Hall. 

The advent of three dancers (one female and two male) from Company Wayne McGregor on stage gave us something interesting to focus on: in grey tops and briefs, their sculptural dance balanced tension and angularity with liquid moments of softness. Some movements had roots in classical ballet, while others seemed more like graceful stunt fighting.

Nils Frahm was warmly greeted by the crowd, sitting inside a nest of keyboards including a piano and a mellotron (always nice to see). His score for the thriller Victoria has been given the German Film Prize Best Soundtrack Award, and what he plays certainly does sound partly filmic. The rest of the time, he sounds like he is playing with the piano, rather than playing it per se: curiously testing out its powers without much logic or mastery, rather like someone who has tiptoed into a music-room to lift the lid and secretly explore the keys while no one is watching. The trouble was, of course, that we were watching. Occasionally he'd create some extra texture by drumming on his piano or layering sounds with the mellotron, but his execution consistently outlasted any interest his ideas created. When not fiddling with the piano, his music sounded stronger: electronic music of some charm, using fairground and trance-inspired sounds in clean structures. 

The world is full of people claiming to be reinventing classical music; some are, some are trying, some are failing, and some quite simply aren't doing anything of the kind. The artists chosen by Mary Anne Hobbs for the BBC6 Music Prom fell into the last category, providing a dreary evening of synth-driven chords which were only remarkable for their utter predictability: over 90 long minutes, a complete lack of originality is in fact quite something to sustain.

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