Dessner is exactly the kind of composer who personifies what might be next for classical music.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times
Katia & Marielle Labèque together with Bryce Dessner ( member and founder of The National) and David Chalmin ( La Terre Invisible) present now a new version for two pianos and two guitars with new works by Timo Andres Bryce Dessner and David Chalmin.video by Jonathan McCallum
It’s probable that much of the audience at this sold-out show bought tickets simply to gawp at Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who appears in the final half hour of the programme, but that might downplay the extraordinary celebrity of the pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque. These French sisters seem to have been a fixture on TV screens for ever, playing Mozart, Schubert or Bernstein at assorted Proms, or performing glitzy Gershwin duets on mainstream shows such as Wogan or Pebble Mill at One.
Incredibly, they’re now in their late 60s but – having worked through baroque, romantic, fin de siècle impressionism and 20th-century modernism since the 1970s – they are immersing themselves in an increasingly youthful repertoire. Their 2013 album, Minimalist Dream House, saw them playing compositions by Aphex Twin, Radiohead and Brian Eno alongside minimalist classics by the likes of Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and Arvo Pärt.
Tonight’s programme serves as a sequel, with more minimalist compositions by a range of youngish composers. In places, you’re tempted to conclude that the Labèque sisters might be wasted on minimalism: getting two flamboyant technicians to play like machines is like getting Rembrandt to paint your shed. They rattle through an ultra-fast, ultra-simple miniature by Max Richter like someone cranking the rolls on a player piano at high speed.
Thankfully, there are more interesting uses of their talents, particularly seeing how they interact with the two guitarists. The National’s Bryce Dessner (who recently wrote an entire album of music for them) and Katia’s partner David Chalmin sit either side of the Labèques, playing through FX units. On Out of Shape, a simple, hypnotic piece by US composer Timo Andres, the guitars sound like extensions of the piano – each palm-muted riff or skronky blast sounds like a prepared piano. The opposite happens on a new arrangement of Caroline Shaw’s Valencia. In a piece originally written for strings, the guitars thrash out chords and play sustained lead lines while Katia and Marielle’s percussive support sound like a guitarist playing syncopated countermelodies, recalling Glenn Branca’s symphonic works for multiple electric guitars.
Much of the first half of the show resembles Radiohead’s more ambient work on Kid A or A Moon Shaped Pool – particularly the atmospheric post-rock explorations of David Chalmin’s Particule No 5 and No 6 and the shifting time-signatures and icy, FX-laden guitar figures of David Lang’s Ever-present. It links nicely with the second half, which is devoted to Yorke’s compositions. One new commission, Don’t Fear the Light, is an instrumental work in three parts: Chalmin generates grinding buzzsaw bass drones while the Labèque sisters play a series of quizzical, irregular figures which slowly become more baroque and machine-like. Yorke joins the stage to sing Gawpers, activating a synth drone that sounds like a faulty power generator, while the Labèques provide atmospheric flourishes. It’s the kind of funereal meditation that would have fitted nicely on A Moon Shaped Pool. Even better is the encore, a version of Yorke’s Suspirium, the title song for the soundtrack to Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 horror remake Suspiria. The Labèque sisters help to transform this simple waltz into a Brechtian psychodrama, with Chalmin and Dressner adding EBow guitar. It would be fascinating to hear them all record a full-length album together.
...The group comprises the National’s Bryce Dessner, composer-guitarist David Chalmin, and, center stage at enormous Steinways, the electrifying pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque. With her glitter patches and sparkly-striped trousers, Katia looked like a haunted Victorian cowboy.
To start, the Minimalist Dream House band played a suite of old and new compositions. Bryce Dessner’s “Haven,” which premiered at the concert, screamed Bryce Dessner: jumpy and shrill, perilously reminiscent of John Adams, with guitars that jittered up and down arpeggios, and pianos that promised redemption. Its grand, naive sense of wonder and organized chaos perfectly suited the multicolor auditorium, where balconies squiggle around and curve upwards, lifting your gaze to boomerang-shaped panels suspended like aeroplane parts after a mid-air crash...