Though ‘classically’ trained, Belize-born composer Errollyn Wallen has throughout her career embraced pop-music influences as a singer-songwriter.
Singing at the keyboard, she was joined by a string quartet for a sequence from her Songbook at the outdoor stage of the Coal Drops Yard complex at King’s Cross, London.
The songs are thoughtful but not angst-ridden, often rhythmically driven but not hyperactive, and they fundamentally come over as warm and naturally expressive. The selection ranged from My Feet May Take a While Longer with its hypnotic repeating chordal accompaniment, the quirkier What’s Up, Doc? and the atmospheric North.
Only five days in development, Hildegard: Visions promised an experience that “transports its audience… from intimacy to ecstasy”, and that’s exactly what it did. In a dimly lit space, serene attendants welcome you: during the performance they dispense illuminated wrist bands and faux-sequin scarves. You are spritzed with scented purifying water.
In the first part, the whispering, singing and chanting performers, who envelop the audience, quietly recall texts and vocal music of the 12th-century composer, abbess and mystic Hildegard of Bingen. There is the ritual of bathing, a herbal remedy involving smoked earthworms, and we are asked to stand for funeral rites.
The second part comprised an extended (perhaps over-extended) build-up from quiet rhythmic chanting to a prolonged ecstatic climax of animalistic dancing and screaming. It’s a unique, multisensory happening, even if its overall shape and purpose could do with a remedy.