‘Could you review Marcela Lucatelli’s debut concert? It’s likely to be absolute mayhem.’ Sure I can and yes it was.
We might as well start with the dogs. The first dog was the soft toy dog dragged on stage by the policeman in the latex bondage uniform. The second dog was the stuffed fox on the skateboard (fair enough, not a dog but four legs, sharp teeth and a furry tail). The third dog was the Labrador Marcela Lucatelli brought with her to sing the pastiche Italian aria da chiesa accompanied by organ with obbligato distortion harp-guitar. The fourth dog was the dog in the oil painting held up by the blonde woman who appeared in the films cut to electronic noise. According to my notes there was a fifth dog which, with apologies, I cannot now account for.
Beyond that streak of vulnerability Lucatelli can afford to be honest because she has so little to hide
Lucatelli’s Gesamtkunstwerk Isych, das Moment – or how to describe atomic habits romped through the academic, the popular, the cutting, the banal, the theatrical, the zoological (there was also a tortoise), the unfathomably brilliant, the obfuscatingly bizarre and the rib-ticklingly entertaining. It was both rollercoaster ride and ritual, whose organ prelude and interludes lodged it on the severe foundations of a Mass but whose recurring skits gave it the lightness of a summer review. Almost every performer on the stage assumed a character and Lucatelli was all for not pushing against instrumental stereotypes: an idiot Wozzeck of a trombonist; an uptight organist straightjacketed by archaic counterpoint; a flautist who strode about angrily, refusing to see the funny side of anything including the bells on her jester’s hat.
The frothing voice
Writing in the programme, a certain Marcello Morns told us to take it as it comes (I paraphrase) – to decide for ourselves what was beautiful, what was ugly, what was stolen, what was authentic, and which of those states we prefer anyhow. Lucatelli gave the whole package to us straight: meticulously organized, executed with panache (mostly) and refreshingly, graciously honest. This was a conscious and forthright introduction, absolutely in the manner of a debut concert. From what I hear, it is Lucatelli’s modus operandi in general.
She was the only performer who appeared in non-fantasy mode, maybe even playing herself: the composer, the fixer, the first-person storyteller. Beyond that streak of vulnerability Lucatelli can afford to be honest because she has so little to hide. Those organ interludes riffing off Bach, Reger, Laub and Dupré proved she can write engagingly even in parody mode. Her cut-up word mosaics and mouth noises have the physical virtuosity and inner music of Jennifer Walshe, with the depth to make you want to hear them again. She performed a wicked telephone sequence herself – a rough-cut, tangled and compressed echo of Poulenc’s La voix humaine.
Lucatelli’s voice is her most acute tool, as important in the creation of her music as in the delivery of it. Her frothing, spluttering incantation over a set of candles – bedroom black magic from a coloratura vocalist shrouded in gothic drapery – was a high point of the show but its diligent DNA was scattered elsewhere. Chiefly in Asta Hyvärinen’s agitated drumming, that stalked the whole presentation and induced some sensitive improvised ensemble pieces, the best of them coming when Lucatelli and the guitarist-scientists rounded on Ole Rubin and his trombone. The showmanship in this episode barely disguised the night’s most engrossing ensemble music, living by its improvisatory wits and building to something intense and thrilling.
There was a more delicate, pattering, Christian Winther Christiansen-style cousin to that piece from an ensemble of harp-guitars, trombone, drums and a piccolo that coughed, gurgled and spluttered in Lucatelli’s signature style, excellently realized by Marina Cyrino. Against the handsomely cut films of a blonde-haired woman suggestively eyeballing the audience, the electroacoustic noise was barbaric but cultivated – calligraphic gestures stacked up in bulk to achieve volume.
Titanics and individuals
Imposing some sense of order upon this cavalcade was surely one of Lucatelli’s biggest challenges. The conservatory’s demand that its graduating composers fill 90 minutes in a configuration of their choice is as much of an ask as brewing-up the material itself.
A helpful rhythm was established by the organ interludes, the fidgety drum mutters and the regular appearance of two benign, easily distracted police officers who could have wandered in from Ligeti’s Le grand macabre. One of them, played and sung by Poul Emborg, laboured increasingly under the illusion that he was metamorphosing into a chicken, his spoken words becoming clucks and coos. There was no better example of Lucatelli’s unfussy take-it-or-leave-it humour than that. Nothing was put on a pedestal. ‘Hvorfor går de ikke bare hjem?’ [Why don’t they just leave?] asked Emborg’s partner, Klaudia Kidon, gesturing towards the audience after a particular moment of nonsense.
Mayhem? Yes. And a combination of fun and sincerity that is hard to come by
Perhaps because it somehow held together – a billowing fabric pinned into place by those recurring features. A bump came in the form of a sequence on the sinking of the Titanic, which invited everyone to spray their sonic graffiti over the hymn Nearer, My God, to Thee (even the straight-backed organist Katrine Immerkjær Kristiansen went rogue) while investing the hymn with the musical strength to survive nonetheless. The sequence left you wondering how we’d got to this very different-feeling time and place, when the show was otherwise so front-footed in its concern for living, present individuals and their personal battles. Maybe this was Lucatelli trying her hand at something that doesn’t come so naturally to her, isn’t as sharp-edged or subversively fascinating.
Or perhaps the Titanic sequence was there because the composer felt that as it reached its climax, her show needed the weight of something bigger, something rooted, something universal as opposed to idiosyncratic. Because that’s what the mischievous jumble of ISYCH was missing, in its insistence that we each take from the experience what we choose.
But then, Lucatelli’s whole shtick is the personal, the me-me-me even when it’s actually the you-you-you. Her show’s sincerity did mean it was rarely arrogant and hardly ever wasted time. Anyway, it was topped-off with a simple ‘tak for i aften’ [thanks for coming] delivered with a metaphorical wink by the organist Kristiansen, twisting around on her bench for the first and last time.
In execution, there was little about all this that convinced you it was anything but a student performance: awkward stage comings and goings (there were too many of them), juddering lighting shifts and the sideways glances of performers only half-sure what was supposed to be coming next (though the films were cut with professionalism and flair).
I am sure I got fewer of the references than anyone who knows the composer personally (less, therefore, than pretty much everyone else in the room). But Lucatelli sees the world broadly and has a confident, individual way of reporting on it that I suspect is founded on technique, experience and ears as big as those she appended to the heads of her two loony, guitar-strumming doctors. Mayhem? Yes. And a combination of fun and sincerity that is hard to come by.
Marcela Lucatelli’s debut concert took place on 27 November at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen.