Helen Anahita Wilson – BHOOMA, 6 December 2017
Magical music calls for a magical venue – and the Treehouse, a large open-plan space above a pub in Shoreditch, proved the perfect place to enjoy new music composed and performed by Helen Anahita Wilson. While traffic growled along the Great Eastern Road, for two hours we were bathed in exotic, sensual sounds, cocooned in a wonderful urban eyrie. The lights were low, the ambiance relaxed, the air delicately scented with incense, the music entrancing.
In a typically imaginative and unusual programme, Helen played her own compositions as well as works by her beloved teacher, the late Peter Feuchtwanger, Chick Corea, Handel and Stephen Montague. Her own pieces reflect her musical preoccupations – Asian musics and jazz – and evoked Indian rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation, with Sitar-like shimmers of sound, hypnotically pulsing accompaniments, and perfumed chords infused with Eastern and jazz harmonies, sometimes redolent of Debussy’s idiosyncratic soundworld. These works were complemented by Feuchtwanger’s Tariqa I, an absorbing, atmospheric study based on preludes in Persian or Arabic music, which transforms the concert piano into an Arab Qånun (a type of stringed instrument), and Dhun, a northern Indian Råga. The first half of the concert closed with Beguiled (2015), a striking work by Stephen Montague (receiving its world premiere at this concert), at first exuberant and extrovert before retreating into a more introspective and tender realm.
The second half opened with Incarnation II by Somei Satoh, an extraordinary work constructed from a series of repeated notes which capitalises on the piano’s resonance to create multi-layered timbres which evoke horns, drums, low strings, bells….. while the rapid repetitions and very slow overall pulse bring a sense of suspended time. The spare elegance of the Adagio from Handel’s Suite in F, HWV 427, provided a wonderful contrast, like a musical palette cleanser, before three more works by Helen herself, all infused with Asian idioms and rhythms, music which spoke softly yet deeply expressive and always engaging. The collective silence at the end of the performance was a mark of how absorbing this concert was.
This was the ‘salon concert’ reinvented for the 21st century – the atmosphere relaxed, warm and intimate, the music exquisitely played and elegantly presented.