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Review: Michael Nyman Band, Hall One Sage Gateshead

The celebrated composer Michael Nyman celebrates his 70th year with a concert on Tyneside at The Sage Gateshead. Rob Barnes went along

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Composer Michael Nyman
Composer Michael Nyman

Michael Nyman was 70 last month and brought his band to Sage Gateshead as part of a week-long anniversary tour.

Also a published writer and photographer, he composes in many forms, but is still best known for his music for the 1993 film The Piano.

He has been writing concert music for films for over 30 years, most conspicuously the art films of director Peter Greenaway, and it was predominantly this music which was celebrated on Tuesday night in Hall One.

His band of 11 – fully committed to the cause and manically gleeful like children who’ve just started their holidays - play an amplified mix of conventional brass, saxophones and strings – with a bass guitar being the only concession to instruments of the current era.

Nyman sits at his piano with back to the audience, playing and conducting in true Baroque orchestral style.

The music – inspired by the likes of Dowland, Purcell and Mozart - is built around themes, eddying, swaying, developing, exercising the musicians’ skill and their ability to remain on the edge of total abandon, whilst all the time being in total virtuosic control.

Nyman’s unique and original soundscapes are his magic.

The music is beautiful, yet compelling and anarchic – the combination of cello, trombone, bass guitar and baritone sax carving out stomping percussive rhythms being a perfect example. Where Glenn Miller found his unique ‘sound’ in the 1940s, Michael Nyman has done the same today.

There were no words spoken on stage, there were no programme notes to guide us – but this was a very special party to celebrate Nyman, his band, and a very special brand of music. The applause rang loud and long.

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