"Charlie Barber’s latest work, Sex And Death At Covent Garden, is a stunning event. Performed by the New Arts Consort in Cardiff’s National Museum of Wales among homoerotic marble sculptures and white-jacketed Canton trendies, it’s reminiscent of those Sixties happenings where the audience was an integral part of the live performance.
The video of the Queen’s recent birthday visit to Covent Garden is intercut with scenes of the arrival by tube of a busker. The orchestra, starting with 10 bars from Gluck’s Orfeo, disperse and reassemble at various points. A scruffy attendant turns out to be Lol Coxhill who plays an amazing sax solo and appears on another video about learning the instrument which is mainly concerned with the quality of the carrying case and the polish on the metal.
An exhibition includes Jean Cocteau’s cartoon of Nijinsky, claimed as the starting point for the work, and other material from the musical score to a selection of postcards exchanged by the collaborators over the last two years.
Such dressing could easily obscure the event itself, and especially the music which is marvellously sonorous, arranged with the skill that is always apparent in Barber’s work.
But as an event it is more than a 50-minute composition and set out to challenge the elitism of art products criticised in Lynn MacRitchie’s original article from which the title is taken; hence the irony in setting it in a temple of high art and offering it to a trendy audience of aficionados."
David Adams, The Gaurdian, 10 May 1986
"Charlie Barber's most ambitious work to date, Sex and Death at Covent Garden, which was commissioned by Chapter, had a three year gestation period, but finally saw the light of day (or crepuscular gloaming) at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff on 2 May. It has been performed again since then in the very different ambience of the Midland group in Nottingham, but these remarks refer to its museum performance only.
Charlie Barber's Sex and Death at Covent Garden intriguingly called 'an orchestral installation', is basically an extended composition for chamber orchestra, whose members are 'constantly re-distributed, splitting into mobile groups to create a wide range of spatial effects'. Sections of the piece come from the heavens, in the gallery of the museum's high rotunda, other parts from the widely distanced staircases at either end of the hall, and from other more obscure parts, all in the tradition of the spatial antiphony of Gabrieli at St Marks.
Barber's very fine orchestral composition is an extended piece in eleven short movements for thirteen players, entirely derived from ten bars of the opening chorus of Gluck's opera Orfeo systematically dissected, displaced and subjected to various compositional procedures. The music stands apart from the run of the mill systems music, however, in being rigorously organised but not static, and well able to hold its own developmentally for its 50 minutes duration"
David Briers, Performance magazine, July / August 1986