​REVIEW: Barbican’s Sound Unbound 2017

Here’s Sabine Koch’s take on Sound Unbound…

When I asked, back in 2015, if this was supposed to be a recurring event, staff from the Barbican said “maybe, hopefully.” 

Well, two years later and the Barbican did it again.

After the smashing success of the first instalment, the organisers have put together another world class program to entice, entertain, excite and educate.

Sound Bound 2017

I am sorry I had to miss out on the Saturday, especially the world premiere of Chilly Gonzales’ new work ‘The Young-ish Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’.

But my Sunday made up for this. It gave me the chance to attend nine different concerts in one day from 12pm to 8.15pm. There would have been even more to see, but by the evening I was physically filled with great music and new experiences and wouldn’t have been able to grasp more.

This is what I chose to see (with the help of some strong coffee):

“The film music of John Williams (part 1)” – London Symphony Orchestra

Jaws – one of the best and most recognisable of the great composer’s works, a perfect way to start the day for a cinephile like me – who doesn’t want to be scared by a full orchestra playing that thumping theme?

“Shock of the Baroque” – Jean Rondeau

This was a surprise – a young French Harpsichord player, Jean Rondeau managed to transform the rather sparse surroundings of The Pit venue into a delicate baroque world of sound with his playing.

“I eat the sun and drink the rain” – Sven Helbig and the BBC Singers

One of the few misses on my day. I couldn’t really comment on the quality of the concert. I just know that I couldn’t get into it and left after a short while.

“The harp revolution” – Remy van Kesteren

Back in The Pit for another unusual instrument – the harp. This time around I didn’t feel the magic.  Luckily I could sneak out easily and to over to…

“The Film music of John Williams (part 2)” – London Symphony Orchestra

This adage rings true – never change a winning team. The orchestra, who played with the maestro on his iconic recordings, is probably the best to make the music come alive on the stage. They embraced the chance to blast it out there and the audience loved it!

“Horn hang out / Pop up Horns” – Sarah Willis and guests

A little talk show of renowned horn players of the London Symphony Orchestra presented by the charming and charismatic Sarah Willis, herself a horn player with the Berlin Philharmonics. The light-hearted banter and Q & A in the foyer was followed by a flash mob of these artists playing together with music students and horn players of a military band on the terrace. Great fun for the musicians with some participation of the audience. Happy faces all around!

“Handel’s Water music” – Academy of ancient music with Tim Mead

Another fine example of how you can introduce old music to a young audience. The excellent musicians where joined in the first part by wonderful countertenor Tim Mead. They not only played the music to perfection but also entertained the listeners with some introductions. One little girl in particular got so entranced, she moved up to front row during the concert. Her excited wonder was felt by the audience and the musicians as well. One of them came up to her after the concert to shake her hand – maybe the birth of another musician, but definitely a fan!

“Goldberg Variations” – Scottish Ensemble

Glenn Gould’s interpretation of this piece is the ‘gold standard’, but the trio of strings of the Scottish Ensemble gave it their all and opened up another dimension in the perfect venue for it – the LSO St. Luke’s. I don’t think they will replace my undying love for the master, but they were brilliant.

“Nordic Noir” – Mari Samuelsen with The 12 Ensemble and Max Ruisi

The highlight of my day. Wonderful program (with one of my favourite pieces of all time – Fratres by Arvo Pärt), wonderful musicians in a great hall. There is no mistaking when a musician has a deep cultural connection to the material he or she is performing. Mari, who I have already seen in the duet with her brother Hakon, chose composers like Olafur Arnalds and Arvo Pärt and you could sense her devotion to the music and her joy of introducing it to more audiences. Brava!


All in all, the Sound Unbound 2017 was a great experience that I can recommend to anyone even remotely interested in music. You don’t have to be a fan of classical music beforehand – but I am sure you will be afterwards!

Sound Unbound 2017

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