This will make you change the way you look at the orchestra for ever
It's pure dead brilliant
Figures sit astride benches in what appears to be a deserted lecture hall. They have instruments and make strange papery noises. More join them, busy, elegant, swift moving people with bassoons, a drum, a sheet of music. (disgraceful, snaps outraged from Barnton in the row behind. 'They hustled us in here saying it was starting... they haven't even finished the rehearsal.')
A voice begins to read text - Heiner Mueller, intoning Edgar Allen Poe's parable Shadow. We move, via voices, movement, light, invention and dreams, through shifting landscapes where the colour in the music daubs monochrome walls of shapes and stark shafts of light. Musicians speak and make secret sounds.
The elegance has the sudden fragrance of a slap of style on the catwalk, the playing, in startling bursts of chamber ensemble and solos ehich slither and stretch like lines from a sonnet, has breathtaking assurance in jazz, Japanese jangle and fugue of baroque complexity.
Twenty-three tiny scenes flow seemlessly; they have titles in the programme, grave pointers towards earnest sections of prose, but also veiled clues to what one might expect. Toccato for Teapot and Piccolo is just that - but more wonderful than any might expect. The respect for the chosen text is, in fact, unflinching, the music, in the way that it transcends any possibility of comparison - it is, in fact, a fusion which celebrates rather than reflects any language of our time - is bewitching.
So Heiner Goebbels' Black on White will change the way you feel and think, will cause you never again to worry about the future of the orchestra, but to recoil in fright at how easily, in recent years, we have accepted and affirmed the cosy etiquette of the concert hall.
It would be unfair to describe in dogged or euphoric words the freefalling cleverness - no, brilliance - of the ideas, the charm and intelligence of this extraordinary piece. Simply it will make you feel well.
Beware of falling scenery and preconceptions and take everyone from telecentric child to liberated grandmother. Ensemble Modern, young, beautiful and some of them British, will gift you glimpses of desperate seriousness and remarkable joy. And whoever is complaining in the row behind, they're likely to hug you by 8.45 pm.
The Scotsman (GB), 30 August 1997