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Ligeti Quartet channels Noël Coward in theatrical performance

Thursday, 20 December 2012

As part of its Park Lane Group concert in London's Purcell Room on 11 January, the Ligeti Quartet gives the world premiere of a work that asks its performers to act as well as play.

Hay Fever, by London-based composer and mezzo-soprano Laura Bowler, is inspired by Noël Coward's titular comedy from 1924, in which an eccentric, bohemian family humiliate and embarrass their weekend house guests.

Bowler's work sets the players around a breakfast table, with cups of tea and newspapers on their music stands. Beyond the theatrical staging and props, each performer is assigned the role of a character in the play. Bowler explains: 'The players are very much required to act throughout. The physicality of taking on a character has got to be within their face and their whole body.'

She adds: 'The work is absolutely not programmatic. It's more about taking the structural dramatic tensions between four very caricatured characters and turning them from words into music. I'm not setting out to convey the actual narrative.'

The Ligeti Quartet's cellist, Valerie Welbanks, describes some of the ways in which the characterisation is expressed in the music. 'Laura imitates voice intonation. The cello line, for example, starts with an obvious "Good morning" figure. Throughout the music there are lots of very specific directions, such as asking the inner voices to imitate the sound of cups of tea being slurped, through percussive noises and pulling the bow towards the bridge loudly.'

Hay Fever is one of three works being performed by the ensemble in the Purcell Room concert: the programme also features Jonathan Harvey's String Quartet no.2 and Ligeti's String Quartet no.2.

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