Devonté Hynes review – alternative rocker makes exhilarating classical debut | Music
FFor the better part of the 21st century, Devonté Hynes bridged the gap between alternative rock and R&B. After terrorizing mid-2000s indie with dance-punk trio Test Icicles, he transitioned from eccentric hip to bellwether pop, writing hits with Sky Ferreira and Carly Rae Jepsen. Hynes, 37, is now better known as Blood Orange (formerly Lightspeed Champion); his music mixes guitar-driven chamber pop with desperate R&B and interludes that question black heritage, in tune with pop pioneers like his occasional collaborator Solange Knowles.
His two-night premiere at London’s Barbican heralded another reinvention: his formal debut as a classical composer (aside from the occasional film score and a few collaborations with Philip Glass). The 90-minute set includes five premieres, including two half-hour symphonies performed by the London Symphony Orchestra – a still rare staging by a black composer in one of the city’s major concert halls.
The first, Naked Blue, draws a thin line from Blood Orange. Its windswept violins and insurgent cellos suggest a threatened utopia, evoking Hynes’ iconic lyrics about the laden sanctuary. But the orchestra, and conductor Matthew Lynch, invest him with a seriousness absent from his pop music, where he tends to set grand themes and rich harmonies against rambling rhythms and wounded vocals. His warlike emotions here give rise to an appropriately epic battle scene.
Orchestra fired, Hynes emerges after intermission wearing a black baseball cap and gray sweater, dreads tight in a ponytail. Hunched over a Steinway opposite fellow pianist Adam Tendler, he slips into The Long Ride II – a cascading duet reminiscent of composer Nico Muhly – and the exhilarating Morning Piece, in which arpeggios twirl to a climax of pangs. à la Stravinsky.
The solo piano piece Untitled III feels hesitant and lighthearted, but the final Happenings symphony, seductively performed by the LSO, dispels all traces of inhibition. Soloist Tendler repeatedly rushes under the piano lid to strike or strum the exposed strings. As a catchy resolution awaits, he nudges the keys in a sudden gesture of denial. The coda freezes on a discord, leaving this ambitious chapter of the auspicious Hynes catalog unresolved.