Meltdown Festival: Diamanda Galás opens with complex avant-garde notes at the Royal Festival Hall
Diamanda Galás played last night in one of the opening concerts of Antony Hegarty’s Meltdown Festival at London’s Southbank Centre.
It is not without good reason that this avant-garde composer had been chosen to inaugurate the 12-day-long event full of music, debate and performance, featuring many courageous artists who have challenged and inspired audiences over the last few decades.
Galás is regarded as a one of the most important singers and avant-garde composers of our time. Her three-and-a-half-octave-range voice has become a proficient tool, powerful enough to lay bare traumatic subjects that the artist has chosen to deal with throughout her long and turbulent career. Her body of work covers topics such as AIDS, genocide, mental illness, injustice and loss of dignity. She is also know for her controversial and uncompromising political views.
Highly regarded for distinctive interpretations of jazz and blues music, Galás was awarded Italy’s prestigious Demetrio Stratos International Award for experimental music in 2005. She has worked with many composers, including Iannis Xenakis, Vinko Globokar, John Zorn and John Paul Jones, besides making her mark in the film world.
During last night’s show at the Royal Festival Hall she performed a selection of songs for voice and piano, including several new works based on poems by various writers.
Starting with Cesare Pavese’s suicide note, her haunting voice evoked a journey through death, illness and despair. She sang in Italian, Spanish, German, Greek, French and English — some of the lyrics being translated for the audience in a booklet accompanying the performance.
In many of her new piano adaptations you could find Renaissance figures and embellishments (Verrá la morte e avrá i tuoi occhi), heavy avant-garde opera arrangements (Man and Woman Go Through the Cancer Ward, Gottfried Benn’s poem) and folk-influenced elements in songs like Sierra de Armenia, Fernand and Amsterdam. Inspired by Italian, French and Andalusian traditional music, her repertoire may have appeared more conventional in comparison to her prior works; though it remains difficult to talk of Diamanda Galás in terms of conventional art.
With settled and atmospheric lighting design (Chahine Yavroyan) and phenomenal sound engineering (thanks to Jasen Hattams) the artist delivered a highly aesthetic musical experience for all her devoted fans.
In addition to this opening night performance, the Meltdown Festival has prepared a screening of Schrei 27, Galás’ film made in collaboration with Davide Pepe, with a lecture on her work as an activist, musician and artist, this Friday 3rd August at Queen Elizabeth Hall.
The Meltdown Festival 2012 takes place at the Southbank centre from 1st – 12th August.