Kate Simko at the National Gallery
Just over a year ago I interviewed the brilliant Kate Simko. The subject of our chat was Kate’s impending performance at the National Gallery, for which she produced a composition based on a painting (Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s ‘The Four Times Of Day’) which she discovered in Room 41 at the famous London tourist spot. This year Kate has taken her experimentation with classical music even further with an ambitious and fascinating project for which she has assembled a crack team of classical performers, along with herself, labelled the London Electronic Orchestra. Aside from Kate herself, the LEO includes Kamila Bydlowska (violin I), Nadine Galea (violin II), Katherine Clarke (viola), Deni Teo (cello), Claire Wickes (flute), Valeria Kurbatova (harp), Nina Harries (bass) and Zach Schwartz (baritone saxophone).
The LEO made their debut at the Royal College of Music back in March with an excellent show that involved recreating several dance music tracks, including some of Kate’s own compositions. Visuals were supplied by Parisian Adrien de Maublanc of French outfit Masomenos and it made for a brilliant show and a great introduction to the crew of musicians.
Which leads us to their return to the National Gallery this month. Just over a week ago Kate Simko and the London Electronic Orchestra brought their unique brand of classical electronic sounds back to the hallowed halls of the art establishment. For the past 26 years students from the Royal College of Music have been performing at the National Gallery, and Kate is the very first of these artists to put together a selection of electronic-based productions for the long-running Belle Shenkman Music Programme series.
Working alongside her talented and passionate team of musicians, Kate put together an hour-long performance based around five of the paintings found in Room 34. Word had obviously spread about the one-off event, as all of the available seats in the room were full well before Kate and the LEO appeared. In fact, many of these who were keen to catch the show ended up either sitting on the floor, or standing – even in the roped-off doorways that connected onto other rooms, people crammed themselves to catch a glimpse of the special event. RCM representative Katy Hamilton was first to appear in front of the audience in Room 34, introducing Kate and interviewing Harp player Valeria Kurbatova about LEO’s latest endeavour.
The performers then took their places and Kate sat down in front of her electrical gear, which comprised a laptop and a keyboard. After a slight technical hitch, which Kate handled with complete professionalism, the show started with two compositions relating to Turner’s ‘Dutch Boats In A Gale (‘The Bridgewater Sea Piece’)’. For someone like myself who is more accustomed to hearing almost purely electronic sounds pumping through a club system, having a close up encounter with the delicate, organic strums of a harp’s strings was a revelation – in fact, all of the instruments sounded fantastic. Throughout the show, each performer took to their role within the orchestra with aplomb – not only revelling in the grandiose nature of the venue they were performing in, but also enjoying the music while staying composed and focused throughout. Their energy was infectious and each performance scintillating. The music was perfectly suited to the room, and though there was the odd slight hiccup, with the music occasionally a little too loud, the general feeling as each of the instruments filled the room with their lovingly arranged music was one of serene elation.
As they progressed with each painting, the energy levels went up and down, and I must admit each time an electronic 4×4 beat came into play I was tempted to get out of my seat and have a little dance. Looking around at the heads bopping and feet tapping around me it was clear I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, though sadly the formal nature of the concert kept us all firmly in our seats – maybe next time.
During the hour-long concert, which, from most of the audience’s perspective, was pretty much flawless, it was difficult to pick out key highlights or standout performers – everyone did their bit and did it very well. Kate’s rearrangement of the Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 was certainly a winner, as was her own track Centre Of Attentionaut, which was released on Canadian label My Favorite Robot. But, though Kate admitted to being “80 per cent happy” with the show afterwards, to most of us, it was about as good as it gets. Fresh, exciting, contemporary yet, of course, classical – it is something which could no doubt be translated into concert halls across the country and the world. If there’s room for improvement as Kate says, then they’ll be unstoppable once they reach their peak.
Looking at both this show and their concert at the RCM, you can see that there’s so much potential in the London Electronic Orchestra. It’s a project that has the power to bring together typically disparate audiences; the world of clubgoers and those who love classical music. (Not that that’s always the case, of course, but speaking in general terms).
At the end of the show Kate took time to talk the audience through each of the paintings and their related pieces of music, which added a nice personal touch to the whole thing. An outstanding achievement and another step forward for a musician who continues to push her limits. Look out for Kate the London Electronic Orchestra, I’m sure they’ll be on the road in the not-too-distant future.Christine Anderson, Claire Wickes, Deni Teo, Kamila Bydlowska, Kate Simko, Nadine Galea, National Gallery, Nina Harries, Valeria Kurbatova, Zach Schwartz
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