String Music A-Go-Go

Article excerpt

The gogmagogs, a septet of string players, leap past the bounds of performance propriety

It's pretty clear that this isn't a typical group of string players. Certainly what they do in performance is compelling: leap across the stage, sing, dance, act-in short, everything a group of dancers or actors might do, except that they do it while playing stringed instruments, and playing them very well. Spend an evening at a performance and you might see Nell Catchpole, wearing a white tutu, jump up on a chair while still playing her violin; or Matthew Sharp run around the stage playing a cello strapped to his waist and sporting flippers on his feet; or perhaps Lucy Shaw playing mournful tunes on her bass as she lies flat on her back underneath a table. Welcome to the mad, mad world of London's gogmagogs, an innovative ensemble whose exciting fusion of string playing and other performing arts brings new meaning to the concept of poetry in motion.

The gogs, as they are known, are serious musicians who have commissioned works from composers such as John Tavener and are comfortable in many musical styles, from jazz to classical to Arabic improvisation. The lively performance style of these seven young string players (three violinists, one violist, two cellists, and a bass player) has been acclaimed by audiences in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New York City, where they gave their first U.S. performance this past fall. The New York Times described their show, gobbledygook, as "virtuosic, funny... and a refreshing change from the traditional concert experience."

The group's name comes from Gogmagog, a hill outside of Cambridge, England. Gog and Magog are also two legendary giants-- statues of the giants guard the musician's gallery at London's Guildhall. The group's creative impulse comes from a series of experimental performance workshops initiated by Catchpole and theater director Lucy Bailey in Cambridge in 1995. (Find out more at www.gogmagogs.com.)

Bailey, who has studied the violin and so understood what she was asking of the musicians, felt that they were creating a new genre in the workshops. "I thought if you could just get musicians on their feet and extend the movement, the performer would become a whole different creature, something that has an extraordinary extra limb," she says.

Recalls Catchpole, "Things that the gogs now take for granted, like lying down or moving across the room while you're playing, or finding a musical idea that would allow you to do things physically together, were all new then. …