Keaton Henson with Britten Sinfonia: The science behind music and emotions


9 AUGUST 2018



After three years of crafting, Six Lethargies was finally delivered to us in shape of a multi-sensory show.


The fact that Keaton Henson battles with anxiety isn’t exactly a secret at this point. With only 32 live performances in his entire music career, Six Lethargies finally gave him the power to share his story without having to perform. The six-part composition explored themes of mental illness, empathy and human connection. The story was handed to Britten Sinfonia, which would later be told to us on a multi-sensory show at Barbican Centre on the 20th July.
Selected members of the public had their emotional levels controlled by biometrics, and the results were translated into what, at some point, turned out to be a lighting show.

People were making their way to their seats and it was obvious that there was still some confusion. Every once in a while you could overhear a “You think they will play some of his older music?”, clearly showing some members of the audience had no idea what they were about to witness. Unfortunately for some, the Orchestra walked into the stage and, out of 37 musicians, none was Keaton Henson.


According to Keaton, the first piece, Initium, was “an ode to something different” meant to have “space to breathe,” and the public reacted accordingly. There was only one strong light hovering the Maestro, and, if we disregard the cellist that knocked over her music stand, there were no abrupt changes. 
The concert definitely reached its peak with Trauma/In Chaos and the Unease Concerto. The fast compasses, low and high notes, staccatos and strong vibratos, left Barbican Centre in flashing lights. The two most intense pieces transmitted a feeling of uneasiness, followed by two strong red lights pointing directly at the audience. The auditorium looked like a scene taken out of a psychological thriller. 
Thomas Gould, the first violinist, was playing so aggressively that the couple sitting next to me whispered: “I think he is about to break that violin."

Contrasting to the previous representation of trauma and anxiety, On Sorrow portrayed a sense of hopelessness. This “requiem for depression” filled the stage with a pale blue light, which only grew stronger on every note transitioning to Breathing Out. This final part of the composition started to display signs of hope, and the public definitely felt that as the lights got warmer and stronger, ending the act in a full circle, with only one light hovering the maestro.


Disregarding the random clap here and there from a clueless member of the audience (who assumed a part had come to an end every time the musicians stopped playing), the public was silent and very respectful, letting the symphonies take control over their bodies and mind.

At the end of the show, Keaton himself went on stage to thank everyone. The tears in his eyes proved how emotionally invested he had been throughout the night. His question “If I write how it feels to me, will it make you feel the same?” had been answered.
Emotions can indeed be transcribed to music and, most importantly, shared with others.