Biennial 2012: Rhys Chatham, A Crimson Grail

Liverpool Biennial 2012 begins in September, but news of the launch party programme means we’re excited already…

On any given Biennial year, people’s expectations are piqued afresh, their appetites for the UK’s largest festival of contemporary arts renewed. Of course that is exactly as it should be, and with the 7th Liverpool Biennial looming large, those expectations will no doubt be added to by the inclusion in this year’s programme of composer and guitarist Rhys Chatham (pictured).

Scheduled to take place as part of the launch weekend, you’d be wrong if you were expecting one guy and his guitar in an intimate setting. The free concert will be something altogether more ambitious in scope. Events producer Samizdat (aka Andrew Ellis), working in collaboration with the Biennial, have settled for nothing less than a UK premiere performance of Chatham’s masterpiece, A Crimson Grail for 100 guitars and 8 basses.

Expressing understandable levels of excitement, the Biennial’s Artistic Director, Sally Tallant said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with a young Liverpool producer to bring this essential performance to the city … and we look forward to filling Liverpool Cathedral with Rhys Chatham’s epic sound.”

Yep, that’s right, the whole thing will be taking place at the Liverpool Cathedral. Well, when we said it wouldn’t be intimate, we didn’t mean it wouldn’t make for an incredibly special occasion, but the Biennial, who pride themselves on utilising some of the more unusual spaces in the city, have outdone themselves on this occasion. Add those 100 guitars and eight basses into the equation and the mind starts to boggle with delight.

Chatham, a fixture in the New York experimental scene since his teens, has had what you could refer to as an extraordinary career; high points of which include becoming the first Music Director of The Kitchen, a multi-disciplinary space founded in the 70s which played host to the NY art scene of the era. In this time, he worked with luminaries ranging from the likes of Philip Glass to Sonic Youth.

Somehow during this period, he found the time to continue to produce his own compositions. While he is primarily known for sharing in the avant-garde and minimalism of his contemporaries, he never could shed his enduring fascination with the power displayed by the punk-rock of the Ramones, elements of which continue to be a feature of his work.

Appropriately perhaps, given the venue, a previous performance (one of only two) prompted a New York Times journalist to remark: “It might justly be considered music to pray to.” The UK premiere of A Crimson Grail will be incorporating musicians of the city. Indeed, anyone interested in getting involved and playing one of those 100 guitars of the title, should go to the Liverpool Biennial website pronto for more details, as today is the last for hopeful applicants.

Unlike the identity of those guitarists, one thing seems guaranteed: A Crimson Grail should be one heck of a fine way to get the Biennial party started, and is likely to provide the closest thing you’ll get to a religious experience on a usual Friday night in town.

Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail for 100 guitars and 8 basses will be performed free as part of the Liverpool Biennial Launch Weekend 7.30pm @ the Anglican Cathedral Friday 14th September 2012

Posted on 27/07/2012 by thedoublenegative