Meredith Monk. Songs of Ascension at The Royal Lyceum Theatre. Edinburgh Festival 2010


Well, it’s not every day you see a legend in the flesh.  When I say a legend, I don’t mean of Clooneyesque proportions.  I think we’re more in Daliesque territory because Meredith Monk (who records for ECM which might give you a clue) is not what you’d call mainstream.  Approaching 70, she led the line in her own production with grace and conviction.

Her and co writer, Ann Hamilton’s Songs of Ascension (which was commissioned by the wildly applauded Kronos Quartet) is never, ever going to trouble any sort of populist chart any day soon.  And the mass exodus from The theatre after about 15 minutes when it reached the height of “obscurity” was quite tell tale and amusing.

In the foyer beforehand I was told it was, to paraphrase, “pish”.

But it wasn’t.  It’s a devastatingly original smorgasbord of jungle noises, American Indian type language and a range of string and wind instrumentation that goes from dischordant noise to utter beauty in less than a minute.

There’s quite a lot of creepy hippy dancing and some blurry meaningful monochrome video in abundance too.

But.  It works.  I loved it.

Although I guess I’d be a little challenged to explain the plot – other than it’s about nature, getting back to one’s roots and rebirth.  Maybe.

Even Jeana loved it.  Mostly (sort of).

Moments of pure Penguin Cafe Orchestra magic, particularly when what sounded to me like a harmonium was to the fore, just blew me away and actually, if you put your mind to it, you could ignore the silly dances. (She’s famous for her dancing apparently.  But only in hippy circles.)

The choir (I assume put together locally) stole the show in the finale number and we all left happily.

Aah! Apart from the couple behind me who got a flea in their ear from me for chatting through the first 20 minutes.  “If you don’t like it you can leave.” I informed them.  “Some of us are trying to listen to this.”

Up they were shut!

Try this.  You’ll no doubt hate it.

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