Jennie Gottschalk alerts me to the fact that ELISION’s concert at the City of London Festival was broadcast on Radio 3’s Hear and Now on Saturday, and has been on iPlayer all week. I find I need a lot of alerting to things at the moment … It will be there for another couple of days, so grab it while you can.
Jennie and I were both at that concert, which was followed, later in the evening, by the last concert in this year’s Music We’d Like to Hear series. It was one of those evenings you occasionally get in London when there’s almost too much new music at once. Even more rarely, it was actually possible to attend both concerts, since it was just a couple of hundred yards along Holborn Viaduct from one to the other. (A side note to those who argue that you always see the same people at new music gigs: against expectations, Jennie and I were the only people to go to both.)
On paper, they were two very contrasting concerts from opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum. In actual fact, not so much, both marked by seriousness of intent, skill in execution, and musical intelligence from performers, programmers and composers alike. I’m calling time on new complexity, new simplicity, new complicity; it’s old-fashioned doing it right.
One of the more surprising connections was the success of two pieces of earlier music within an avant-garde context. ELISION played Random Round by Percy Grainger, dating from 1912; Music We’d Like to Hear, as was their habit this year, went even further back, Tim Parkinson programming a violin duo by Vincenzo Gabrieli. The Gabrieli highlighted concerns of instrumentation, temperament, patterning and form that I heard echoed in, especially, Parkinson–Saunders’ brilliant realisation of Michael Parsons’ Pentachordal Melody. The transition, over three interations of Parsons’ grid of numbers, from pitched instruments to noise, was beautifully judged and exquisitely counterpointed the systematised empiricism of Parsons’ score.
Random Round is one of those early 20th-century oddities – like Satie’s Vexations – that occasionally crop up: a curious, anomalous idea that after several decades appears unexpectedly serious-minded and prophetic. I don’t know enough about the Grainger to know what his intentions were; but it was striking how contemporary ELISION’s realisation (which incorporated lots of extended instrumental sounds) was. There aren’t many pieces that can remain quite so fresh 100 years after they were written. Incidentally, here’s a fun interactive version of Random Round to play around with, although its sounds are much more conventional than ELISION’s were.
The other big highlight of ELISION’s concert was the performance by Richard Craig and Peter Veale of John Rodgers’ Amor, a flute and oboe duet extracted from Rodgers’ much larger (?music theatre) work Inferno. Amor is based on Dante’s pair of lovers Paolo and Francesca, who were caught in the act of adultery and doomed to remain forever joined in the second circle of Hell. Rodgers clearly possesses an extraordinarily original musical mind (he came up with the ‘guiro’ bow used in Liza Lim’s Invisibility, also played in this concert), allied to a great intellectual integrity. At the end of Amor, he symbolises the conjoining of the two lovers by asking for the bell of the flute to be inserted inside that of the oboe: this act of delicate, precise and obviously allegorical instrumental manoeuvring gives rise to a tormented noise of massed interferences, splitting harmonics and so on. Remarkable.
Here’s a video, recorded on an earlier occasion by Veale and Paula Rae: