Keaton Henson – Six Lethargies – NCH – Live Review – 17/04/19
Keaton Henson is a 31 year old singer songwriter and composer from London. One of the more unusual things about Keaton is that he suffers from severe anxiety and does not perform live. While Keaton was at the Concert Hall on Wednesday night, he did not appear on stage other than to take a bow at the end of the performance.
Six Lethargies is a musical composition that brings the audience through a wave of emotion and explores themes of ‘mental illness, trauma and empathy’. The work was performed by a string orchestra led by the Crash Ensemble, with more than 30 string musicians on stage. The conductor on the night was Mark Knoop. The piece was co-commissioned by The Barbican Centre, London; National Concert Hall, Dublin and Vivid, Sydney and was first performed on the 20th July 2018 in the Barbican. This was the Irish première of the work.
The piece was written over two years, where Keaton carried out research on his topic, talking to neuroscientists, psychologists and music-theorists to try to discover ‘not only what specific sounds elicit certain feelings, but why music has such a powerful ability to affect us emotionally’.
The lighting on the night was created by Professor Brendan Walker, and was based on ‘bio-data’ collected during one of the performances. The lighting is generally quite sedate and calm, but during the third movement, you are plunged into a strong red light, warning of the chaos ahead. It helps to alter the atmosphere and adds to the performance.
Music can explore emotions like very few other art forms. Its use in film is the most obvious example. We know the killer is lurking somewhere in the vicinity when the strings section starts to get agitated, or can show passion when two lovers kiss and the music swells. This project explores this subtle art and the composer controls the mood of the room.
The piece is broken into six very different segments of about ten to fifteen minutes each. Each piece explores a different range of emotions. The performance had the form of a journey, as the audience was taken from a calm start to be plunged into the very depths of depression, only to emerge once more at the end in a better place. The range of emotions on display allowed for a wide variety of sounds. Overall, the night was an unusual and complex experience that displayed Henson’s considerable talents.
Movement 1: Initium – An Ode to something distant, growing closer
Movement 2: The Falling – An elegy to resigned anticipation of disaster
Movement 3: Trauma/ In Chaos – The Anxiety Song
Movement 4: Unease Concerto – A waltz for the shuddering after
Movement 5: On Sorrow – A hymn for depression
Movement 6: Breathing Out – A theme for hope, the breathing sea