Home > Reviews > Live Reviews > 07/02/2011 | Piano Circus – The King’s Place, London

07/02/2011 | Piano Circus – The King’s Place, London

Melanie Spanswick


The King’s Place, a contemporary setting in London, was the venue for a recent concert by Piano Circus.  Piano Circus is an experimental music group comprising six pianists and their performances are as much about the visual aspect as about the music. The staging of their concerts is unusual but crucial to the enjoyment and understanding of the many highly complex piano/keyboard combinations. The pianists sit in a circle and the audience are positioned around them, drawn into the drama on stage. It is a clever, unique concept and it is easy to see how the group have remained at the forefront of the contemporary scene for over twenty years.

The concert, entitled Trilogies, focused on two composers; Colin Riley and Graham Fitkin. The first trilogy comprised of Squiggle Zipper, Ebb Cast and Double Trio, the last being a world premiere. Piano Circus had commissioned all three pieces over a five year period. Riley combined electronic sounds with two grand pianos and four keyboards for these works and there were many theatrical effects throughout. Each member of the group moved position between pieces sharing the pianos and keyboards equally.  A large screen erected behind the performers provided visual ‘stimuli’ using colour shapes and the reflective distortion of a landscape, certainly providing a unique experience. The effective driving chords and groove based patterns in Squiggle Zipper were offset by atmospheric, throbbing sounds in the minimalist Ebb Cast. The Double Trio is itself, a trio of works; Purl, Bob and Wane. For these works members played the grand pianos and each had another member standing and reaching into the insides of the piano (strumming, drumming and plucking) treating the instrument in a truly percussive way.  It was a visually exciting piece that showcased the ensemble’s impeccable co-ordination.

The second half consisted of a work by British composer Graham Fitkin. For me, this was the highlight of the evening.  The group reverted to their more usual set up of six keyboards in a circle facing each other. The three works; Log, Line and Loud, were composed in 1989-90.  Log consists of contrasting sections, alternating grand chordal passages with faster polyphonic material. The atmospheric tonal clusters in Line were beautifully judged and Loud was rhythmically very exciting requiring sprightly finger work. The tremendous climactic finish literally brought the house down and left the 100 strong audience members wanting more.


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