Music for the Dark at an Experimental Festival – The New York Times


GATESHEAD, England — Early on Saturday evening, the final strains of Gavin Bryars’s looping “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” faded into silence at a vast concert hall here. After some polite applause, several hundred audience members prized themselves out of chunky beanbag chairs and headed off to find their next listening experience.

Ambling across the arts complex attached to the hall would have brought them to Kinbrae’s nature-themed synth landscapes. On an expansive concourse, they could have chilled out to Echo Juliet’s gently probing D.J. set, or held on for a sonic barrage from the electro duo Darkstar.

All were on offer at the inaugural After Dark Festival, organized by the BBC’s classical music station, Radio 3, in Sage Gateshead, a shiny, undulating arts venue on the banks of the River Tyne in northeast England. The festival’s diverse lineup of music evades an easy collective term: Neo-classical? Experimental? Crossover? Alternative classical?

Describing it is a simpler task: United by its commitment to cross-pollination, the program combined approaches from improvisation, pop, jazz, spoken word and electronic music with a variety of traditional classical music signifiers. As well as slower rates of changes, it preferred curves over edges, minimal over maximal. Electronic elements frequently cropped up, as did multimedia collaboration, evident in the evening’s selection of tableaus, projections and animations.

This loose genre has offered stress relief and calm to increasing numbers of British music fans during the coronavirus pandemic. Coinciding with the spring equinox, After Dark was also an all-night affair, a continuous thread of sound flowing from Chelsea Carmichael’s fluttering sax lines at dusk to the sitarist Jasdeep Singh Degun’s set at daybreak. The overall effect was of one unbroken sound installation, with washes of sound always surreptitiously present.

Elizabeth Alker, whose Radio 3 show “Unclassified” gives a platform to new composers and performers, said that the appeal of such music can be the portal it offers to less turbulent worlds. It has “a lot of space you can naturally escape into, particularly at a time when we don’t have much space in our daily lives — both head space and, during lockdown, physical space,” she said in a telephone interview.

Alan Davey, who runs Radio 3, echoed this. “This music has really come into its own during the pandemic,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s possibly an escape inward, but it’s definitely an escape.”

Over the course of the pandemic, a number of long-form performances have offered such escapism. In 2020, Max Richter’s eight-hour “Sleep” was simultaneously broadcast on radio stations across Europe, the United States and Canada during the Easter weekend. Later that year, …….


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