There are four members of the Italian musical group Decostruttori Postmodernisti (or DP for short) but there were definitely five stars on stage at their recent concert at The Georgian Theatre Royal.
The fifth was a distinctly strange instrument called a theremin.
To all intents and purposes it looked like a small plain wooden box with an aerial sticking up at one end but the sound that it produced can only be described as otherworldly. It also seemed to make this sound without being touched – a phenomenon that obviously greatly intrigued the audience.
Indeed much of the conversation that could be heard at the interval centred on the question of how it was played, how it worked and, well, what on earth was it? One man authoritatively told me that he had almost bought one off the Internet but had thought twice about it because they are ‘a monster to play’.
Most of these questions were answered in the second half of the concert when it was revealed that the theremin was invented by a Russian (Leon Theremin) in 1920 as part of Soviet government-sponsored research into proximity sensors.
It has since been used to great effect in science fiction movies (The Day the Earth Stood Still) and famous players have included Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.
Put very simply, metal antennae sense the relative position of the thereminist’s hands, who can then control frequency with one hand and volume with the other. A volunteer from the audience was called upon to have a try and, yes, it was amusingly difficult to make it produce anything like recogniseable notes, making its repertoire at the concert even more impressive.
Which leads to the programme itself. This was an energetic and intriguing romp through the history of music from the Middle Ages to the present day, using a dazzling array of instruments from the violin (evidently one of the oldest instruments) and cello (a somewhat larger violin), to the Kazoo (played at the same time as the violin) and bird whistle.
All was done with great panache and hilarity. The group of young Italians were intent on having fun and this infectiously spread to their audience.
At one point, a cushion was brought out (wrapped in dinner jacket and a white silk scarf) and strapped to the thereminist’s middle whilst he gave an emotional rendition of Pavarotti’s signature piece Nessun Dorma. Likewise, a large furry cloak was donned for a composition from The Game of Thrones.
The range of music was impressive with nods at the great composers – Stravinsky, Mozart, Puccini and Bach – but not Beethoven (his contribution was limited to the four-note opening motif of the Fifth Symphony) as well as references to more popular compositions, such as the theme tune of the iconic spaghetti western The Good the Bad and the Ugly.
It was all rounded off with the foot-tapping Staying Alive from the Bee Gees and a brilliant encore of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
It was mad, it was silly, and at times it was wickedly irreverent, but it was huge fun. And I might just go and have a quick look on the Internet for a theremin….!