The Gen­der Agenda

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews -

★☆☆☆☆ Queen El­iz­a­beth Hall, Lon­don

Philip Ven­ables’ new piece was the Lon­don Sin­foni­etta’s con­tri­bu­tion to events mark­ing the re­open­ing of Queen El­iz­a­beth Hall. But it is a huge dis­ap­point­ment, com­ing af­ter the 2016 pre­miere of the opera 4.48 Psy­chosis, which iden­ti­fied Ven­ables as a dis­tinc­tive new voice in Bri­tish mu­sic, and his fiercely ef­fec­tive work Il­lu­sions, in­tro­duced at the Hull New Mu­sic Bi­en­nial last sum­mer.

“A con­cert work like no other” promised the Sin­foni­etta’s pre­con­cert public­ity, and The Gen­der Agenda, which was fol­lowed by a screen­ing of Il­lu­sions, is cer­tainly that. It’s de­signed as a par­ody TV gameshow, with con­tes­tants from the au­di­ence set­ting chal­lenges on the sub­ject of gen­der iden­tity and prej­u­dice. The be­se­quinned “host” is the per­for­mance artist David Hoyle (he’s also the on-screen pro­tag­o­nist of Il­lu­sions), but there is too much of him and too lit­tle of Ven­ables’ own mu­sic, which is mostly con­fined to the spoof com­mer­cial breaks and con­trasts with the muzak punc­tu­at­ing the show it­self.

The trou­ble is that it isn’t funny or sharply satir­i­cal enough. The con­tes­tants’ tasks are ut­terly fee­ble, what they say about gen­der is­sues comes across as plat­i­tudi­nous and, fa­tally, the whole thing is not slick enough – a par­ody needs to have at least some of the glitz of the thing it’s at­tack­ing. Pro­por­tions are all over the place, too. Hoyle’s ban­ter with the au­di­ence goes on far too long, while con­duc­tor Jes­sica Cot­tis, Sin­foni­etta mu­si­cians and am­a­teur cho­rus Sprech­chor sim­ply sit there. When the show does start, it all seems an enor­mous waste of time and re­sources.

Ven­ables’ com­mis­sion is shared with En­sem­ble Mod­ern, and the Remix and Asko | Schön­berg en­sem­bles; rad­i­cal re­work­ing is needed be­fore au­di­ences in Frank­furt, Porto and Am­s­ter­dam see it.

Off its game … Philip Ven­ables’ new work

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