REVIEW: Fidelio Trio – No Frontiers Festival – Birmingham Conservatoire

No Frontiers Festival takes place in Birmingham until April 1

Tonight, it was proven to me that classical music is all but not gentle. It’s not always a soft caress of a violin, a twinkle of harp strings and the odd timpani drum echoing through the room. Classical music can be erratic, a jolt of electricity, a vapid splatter of paint on canvas. All of which Fidelio Trio encapsulated perfectly.

Part of the No Frontiers festival (taking place in multiple locations until April 1) at Birmingham City University’s Conservatoire, Fidelio Trio performed 7 pieces curated by Professor Joe Cutler, his work a portrait of modern day faux culture and genre-bending music.

Pianist Mary Dullea, Violinist Darragh Morgan and Cellist Adi Tal are the Fidelio Trio, who have been working with Cutler for around 20 years. Cutler himself said working with the trio was “as good as it gets” for a composer to work with.

For an outsider looking in to the world of classical music (my repertoire of classical music is, ashamedly, next to nil pois), there’s no other words to describe Cutler’s pieces than complete disorder. And that’s what makes his pieces perfect.

Notes spiral in controlled chaos as blue grass riffs intertwine with violin strings. Compositions intended to be played in a Baroque fashion are transformed into grungy, morse code like structures. Fragments of piano slam and pour like a storm against a window in a perplexing, yet mesmerising fashion. Cutler’s pieces, and Fidelio Trio, are as hypnotic as they are impressive.

Darragh Morgan performing Cutler’s Re(GAIA).

Cutler’s social commentary was interesting to note, specifically the pieces 2016 Was a Sad Year for Pop Music and McNulty. The former deconstructing performances by Leonard Cohen, Prince and David Bowie and melting them into a sombre, mournful piece.

McNulty however is a complete juxtaposition, taking inspiration from the hit TV series The Wire. He coins the term “faux-folk music” after watching an episode of The Wire that takes place in an Irish bar and playing the fiddle in one himself. The violin authenticates the familiar Irish notes, whilst the piano keys trickle out notes in a tap tap tap, visualising the police wire tapping that envelopes the TV series’ plot.

Fidelio Trio were nothing short of magnificent. The social commentary and pop culture inspirations in Cutler’s work was a welcomed surprise, and a safety net for someone who probably couldn’t tell the difference between a Harpsichord and an Organ. The compositions were challenging, engaging, encapsulating and a splendid welcome into the world of conceptual music.

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