Live review: Tim Parkinson, London, 19 July 2007

So having missed the first two of what sound like it was an excellent concert series, I made it to the last of the Music We’d Like to Hear gigs last night, put together and performed by composer and pianist for the night Tim Parkinson.

First up, Jürg Frey‘s Klavierstücke (1995) was in a series of sections, the first and longest of which was essentially a low, rumbling drone at the bottom of the piano. Sustained through rapid repetition, the note became a space to move up, down and among the harmonic overtones. I’d just got locked onto the 6th or 7th partial when the next section – a series of gentle, almost-tonal diads and chords – kicked in, a huge shock, particularly in the sudden leap back to equal temperament from such a pure harmonic series. Overall, a powerful and moving piece.

Chris Newman‘s Piano Sonata 8B (2001) was a very different affair. Newman’s something of a cult figure, very elusive, not always easy to deal with, and Parkinson had to go through an intermediary, and a year-long wait, to receive a brown envelope outside Leicester Square tube of some of Newman’s recent pieces. His music is some of the strangest stuff I know. I know it best through his various songs – some of which are on this CD – and they’ve always unsettled me, like Flanders and Swann after a six-pack of Tennents Super and a night on the streets. But this piano piece was something else, and I’ve still no idea what the hell was going on. It was long, mostly dissonant (although with random moments of sickly sweet tonality – like finding a dolly mixture in your meat pie), mostly homorhythmic, and played at a single dynamic level, forte. Deeply disturbing music, not least for its white-eyed, staring commitment. If anyone else has this stuff figured out, please get in touch.

After that, Makiko Nishikaze‘s two pieces, Shades I and II came as something of a relief. They were much quieter, more reflective, but actually shared some similarities with the Newman. Nishikaze’s declared goal in music is to invite attentive listening through a continual subversion of expectations and habits. in these pieces, she mostly did this through pitch and register (and rhythm to a slight degree): like Newman, then, certain parameters – attack, dynamic, etc – remained relatively static, so the effect was of expectations being cutely teased, rather than viciously assaulted.

The last piece, Michael Maierhof‘s Splitting 16 für Klavier, I didn’t take to so much. Essentially a study in preparing a piano with e-bows and large glass balls, it produced some interesting sounds, but didn’t do much more for me than that. Curiously though, and completely against expectation, the score is quite detailed, particularly with respect to rhythm, so perhaps there are subtleties I was missing (there was a lot of building noise from outside, which didn’t help).

Music We’d Like to Hear will be back next summer.

2 thoughts on “Live review: Tim Parkinson, London, 19 July 2007

  1. I loved the jump from something like Frey to Newman. Makiko’s piece ws a sum of Newman but also Frey — there is a whole ‘brand’ of piano music that sounds meditative enough at first, but with enough muscularity to displace you sideways.

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