I’ve breathlessly written several times over the past eight months about fantastic concerts I’ve seen in the UK, but I caught one last week that was beyond compare. In fact, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it. For one thing, it took place in the dim, damp, sepultural vaults beneath London Bridge station. For another, the repertoire was some of the most challenging out there, rendered with unerring focus and superhuman grace. For a third, the performer was nearly naked most of the time. Shall I go on?
The program, titled “Listen, My Secret Fetish,” is the brainchild of Australian clarinetist Richard Haynes. Haynes is one of those people born in 1983 who prompt me to wonder just what the hell I’ve been doing with my 25 years, because his many accomplishments have catapulted him into the highest echelon of new music clarinet players in a remarkably short time (“meteoric,” I guess, would be the word for him). In “Listen, My Secret Fetish,” Haynes assigns four solo pieces—by David Young, Richard Barrett, Chris Dench, and David Lang—to four distinct sexual fetishes, then stages them accordingly in the performance space.
I admit that I had to plead ignorance on some of the fetishes Haynes illustrated—clearly he didn’t have puritans like me in mind when he assembled his costumes and props!—but his magnetism as a performer can’t be overstated. I had the pleasure to hear him play in a more traditional concert in November, and even without the elaborate pageantry of “Listen, My Secret Fetish,” his mastery of the instrument is as striking as his captivating stage presence. Likewise, a program with solo pieces by Barrett and Dench would have been on my calendar any way you slice it, but Haynes created something truly unique, and the works he presented pupated into altogether new creatures in the strange chrysalides he confabulated for them.
For instance, David Lang’s Press Release is not, frankly, a piece I would be particularly thrilled to hear under normal circumstances. But when Haynes managed to burp it out of his bass clarinet while inching backwards up a ladder, clad only in boots, briefs, and a hardhat, Press Release‘s self-consciously posed masculinity suddenly made a lot more sense. Likewise, in the absence of Haynes’s subtly ambiguous staging, David Young’s Breath Control would have been a beautiful but somewhat monolithic study in circular breathing and multiphonics (both of which, by the way, Haynes handled effortlessly). The piece took on a much richer legibility in the presence of Haynes’s antique chair and oil drum.
I can only imagine how much work went into planning, practicing, and producing a program like “Listen, My Secret Fetish.” But if Haynes is trying to make a name for himself in contemporary music, he couldn’t do much better than to tour with this barely describable tour de force. If you get the chance to see him play. . . I don’t even need to finish that sentence, do I?