Music sub-editor Jacob Wyatt reviews musician, visual artist, poet Keaton Henson as he performs an immersive, multi-sensory version of a Vivaldi classic at the Oval Space.
As a multi-faceted artist, Keaton Henson has never had a conventional career. Starting off as an illustrator, he first started recording music in the solitude of his bedroom, generating pieces never intended for the ears of the wider world. In his 2012 exhibition Gloaming, a live projection of Keaton was shown inside a box, into which the audience would sit and stare through a small hole, one at time, to watch him perform a song. This personal transaction of his innermost fears and feelings characterises his first two albums.
So, when Keaton released a completely instrumental classical album, Romantic Works, in June this year, critics assumed the personal nature to his work was lost. Though, in spite of the lack of vocals, his combination of minimal piano and fragile strings still managed to capture this emotion that he had become known for, earning him numerous 5* reviews and continuing adoration from his cult fanbase.
Off the back of Romantic Works, the two concerts he put on in the Oval Space in October were his first entirely classical shows. These events, however, turned out to be as much of an art piece as a musical ensemble. As well as playing a selection of his classical works, Keaton presented Cellophony, a cello octet, performing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, whilst controlling the lighting and environment of the room to resemble each season, creating a ‘multi-sensory’ experience.
Despite the capturing nature of Keaton’s set, with his work stripped back to its bare components, it felt that he was merely playing to draw the crowd in, and Cellophony were, without a doubt, the highlight of the evening. Musically, they were flawless – the arrangement of cellos and one violin soloist providing a richer tone to the usual violin-heavier arrangements of Vivaldi’s classic – but it was the sensory capturing of each season which turned the concert into a piece of art.
The scene presented to the audience after the interval was a room heavy with smoke; a room with such focus to the senses that it even smelt of a damp winter morning. The lighting was focused around a moon-like globe, creating the centre piece of a seasonal atmosphere. With each concerto, the lights shifted with the music, capturing the feeling of the time of year; cool blues and purples lit up Winter, whilst Summer was awash with more saturated greens and oranges. The light show reached a climax in Storm, with the room alight with flashing strobes to mimic the energetic movement.
When Keaton introduced Cellophony he explained his selfish intentions behind putting on this concert saying that, since thinking up the idea, it had just been something that he personally wanted to see. I can say with no doubt that if his initial envision of the show was anything like the reality of it, he could not have been disappointed. It was, to say the least, a spectacle.
Photography courtesy of Sophie Harris-Taylor and Jacob Wyatt.