Clatter, clatter goes Zappa

By David Redshaw

Record Business, 17 January 1983

London, Barbican Centre

ZAPPA HAD already warned that this was to be no 'rock-plus-strings' evening and how right he proved to be. It was a full-scale excursion into the realms of modern classical music – with all the discordant tedium and intense, intellectual posturing that that genre so often provides.

A very large orchestra had been assembled with great sound and percussive possibilities. In the end, Zappa availed himself of it all, but in the most fragmented unsatisfactory way. Strings sawed, woodwind hooted, gongs tinkled – and at one point half the string section hurled its bows to the floor with a clatter, thus making some great symbolic point, and one entirely lost on your reviewer.

Composers of this century who have most successfully written 'modernised' classical music (Ravel and Leonard Berstein to name two – who utilised jazz as an aid) made it stick by exercising lyrical sense and a feel for symphonic continuity too. As yet Zappa does not appear to possess either of these attributes. The best that can be said is that he may have a future providing scores for art films.

The audience was a mixture of rock fans and straighter people, and they gave the music a respectful if unecstatic hearing, although a sprinkling were seen to be nodding off or walking out.

Note. Concert setlist:
- 'Envelopes' (version for large orchestra, 1981) - world premiere
- 'Mo'n Herb's Vacation' (clarinet solo with large orchestra, 1979) - world premiere
- 'Bob In Dacron - Sad Jane' (ballet suite, 1979) - world premiere
- 'Pedro's Dowry' (version for large orchestra, 1975) - world premiere
- 'Bogus Pomp' (version for large orchestra, 1975) - world premiere
- 'Strictly Genteel', conducted by Frank Zappa
Full concert prorgram: 1983-01-11 London LSO Barbican.
See also