840 series at St James, Islington

I was pleased to make it out last night for the first concert in 840’s 2015–16 series. Throughout this year and without much fanfare Alex Nikiporenko and Nicholas Peters have been building up this small series of small concerts of what I am tempted to call, in the least non-disparaging way possible, ‘small music’. Music by composers like Luiz Henrique Yudo or Laurence Crane. Music that doesn’t have any pretensions to be more than it is, that doesn’t seek to fill a space or a time outside of its own container, but that fills what it has just perfectly.

On this occasion all the music was for two or three cellos, played by Tre Voci, and every piece – except for Richard Glover’s Duo from 2012 – was newly written. Yudo, whose beautiful little sonic carvings are always a joy, was represented by CLARIFICATION, a polyphony of repeating pulses and sustained tones. Sergei Zagny brought another perfect miniature in his Studies on Rhythm BACH, written on the first five notes of the C minor scale. Timothy Cape’s NEED was a humorous look at the roles of advertising, self-promotion and anxiety in new music. Thematically it was the ‘biggest’ piece of the night, and in that respect slightly out of tune with its materials, but it raised and earned plenty of laughs. Eleanor Cully‘s tutto dietro il ponticello, as its title suggests, was played wholly behind the bridge of the three cellos, between it and the tailpiece – but if that suggested a Penderecki-esque noise-fest, what we got was a delicate study in bouncing bows and softly pinging pulses. Glover’s Duo is a quintessential study in ‘small music’, just a single perfect cadence zoomed in on and blown up with slow glissandi that drew out every tiny microtone or sonic ‘artefact’ that lurks beneath the most simple and foundational gesture in Western art music. Peters and Nikiporenko both wrote new pieces too, and I was especially taken by the latter, which seemed perfectly balanced in all directions.

This, by the way, is my new favourite programme note:

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