Quick and dirty CD reviews: Dunne, Fox/Roche, Kurka

Timothy Dunne: Metaphrase

St Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic; Jeffery Meyer, cond.; Artur Zobnin, vn; Irina Vassileva, sop.; Alexandra Shatalova, eng. hn; James Giles, pf

innova 930

Works of intricate construction and sometimes surprising turns of direction by New York-born composer Timothy Dunne, a former student of Sergei Slonimsky at the State Conservatory of St Petersburg. The playing by the St Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic (to which Dunne has been an artistic advisor) is exquisite, capturing the particular hovering, shadowy qualities of Dunne’s music.

Christopher Fox: Headlong

Heather Roche

métier msv 28573

I can’t pretend to be objective on this one since I count performer, composer and even producer (Aaron Holloway-Nahum) among my friends and colleagues. Nevertheless, a new Fox disc is always to be welcomed; especially one such as this, devoted to what the composer calls in his sleevenote, ‘the most consistent instrumental preoccupation of my compositional life’, the clarinet. The versatile Roche is an ideal choice to cover the great range represented here, across 35 years of compositional activity. Sometimes the challenge with Fox’s music appears to be how such different things could stem from a coherent musical viewpoint; its satisfaction often lies in discovering that (and how) they do.

chants

Irene Kurka

Wandelweiser EWR 1710

Wandelweiser discs come thick and fast these days, and I’m sure I’m not alone in sensing a diminishing return as the exceptional examples struggle to stand out from what is now a very crowded field. Soprano Irene Kurka was responsible for one of these exceptions a couple of years ago with her disc beten . prayer, which justly earned rave reviews. Yet now that every other Wandelweiser recording seems to explore slow, simple monody, that stark nakedness is starting to sound like a mannerism. The music on chants (by Antoine Beuger, Christopher Fox, Eva-Maria Houben and Thomas Stiegler) is, again, sung with extraordinary control and delicacy, and there’s no doubting its attractions. Kurka is certainly one of the more arresting proponents of this style, and her repertory choices more interesting than some others’, but as production of music like this becomes a matter of sheer volume (EWR recently marked its 100th release) I find myself wondering what it is all for.

 

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The London Ear returns this week

March in London, in an even-numbered year, means the return of the London Ear to Waterloo’s Cello Factory. I’ve been a friend of Gwyn Pritchard and Andrea Cavallari’s new music festival since its inception – this will be the festival’s fifth edition – and once again I’ll be playing my own small part with a pre-concert talk on the music of Rebecca Saunders on Sunday evening.

Much more important is the rest of the programme. Across five days of concerts, starting this Wednesday, there will be music by more than 40 composers, a substantial retrospective of Berio’s chamber music, performances by the likes of Roberto Fabbriciani and Jonathan Powell, a composition workshop with Misato Mochizuki, and an on-stage conversation with Berio’s widow, Talia Pecker Berio. And more besides – it’s a packed programme in what is always a charming venue, and a great chance to hear music by some of the less well-known names on the European scene.

Tickets are all £12 or less; a full festival pass is just £40. See the website for more details.

Radio Rambler – International Women’s Day 2018

Today is International Women’s Day, and as usual I have updated the Radio Rambler Spotify playlist with all-women composers.

A year ago, the PRS Foundation published an evaluation of the first five years of its Women Make Music initiative, which revealed that 78% of interviewees said they had experienced sexism within the music industry.

At the time I described this as ‘shocking’. A year on, and in the wake of all the revelatory horrors that 2017 and 18 have given us, I’m no longer shocked by that statistic, for all that it remains appalling. This simply is, it is now abundantly clear to those of us fortunate enough not to have had to experience it, how the world is and has been for very many people.

But not how it should be, or can be.

The pace of change in the last year has been exhilarating to watch, with record labels, publishers, competitions and festivals all coming under the spotlight regarding their equality practices. Some good things: Huddersfield Contemporary Records committing to 50/50 representation ‘within five years‘ (ie 2022); the PRS’s recently announced Keychange pledge, which ties 45 international music festivals to the same commitment; the louder dynamic level of reports like Rebecca Lentjes’ from the Ostrava Days, which make for uncomfortable but necessarily sobering reading.

But, as some older composers, such as Nicola LeFanu, have cautioned, we have been here or somewhere like it before: in 1972, the Society of Women Musicians (founded 1912) finished operating, concluding that its job had been done and equality achieved. In 1987, LeFanu and others noticed that women had suddenly, and once more, disappeared from the new musical landscape. For a few years, their lobbying bore fruit: women composers and conductors began to achieve some degree of prominence once more. And then after five years or so, she says, ‘the bandwagon rolled by’.

There is certainly much still to be done. The appearance of an all-male shortlist for this year’s Gaudeamus Prize startled many, and provoked a lot of head scratching – how could this happen with an anonymized judging process? Well, clearly it did. And something needs to be fixed, whether that solution comes from lowering the barriers to entry, introducing quotas, or rethinking the whole idea of competitive composing. The comments made in the wake of Keychange by Sally Cavender, vice-chair of Faber Music, that ‘the playing field is relatively level in terms of opportunities and encouragement’ while her own company (one of the UK’s leading music publishers) includes only one woman (Tansy Davies) among its 26 ‘house composers’ should also give pause for thought.

A tide may be turning, but tides have a habit of coming back in. We must use the present moment of advantage to build the structures we need to stop that happening again.

So, as ever, it is with as much solidarity as I can muster that I offer this year’s playlist.

Previous playlists can be found here:

(I failed to make a playlist for 2016; sorry.)

*****

P.S. On a more lighthearted note, I’ve been enjoyably listening my way through Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s Fortunately podcast; readers of this post might like the 15 December episode with Clemency Burton-Hill, which also touches on this topic.

RIP Klaus K. Hübler

I just read of the sad passing of Klaus K. Hübler.

Hübler’s career was halted for several years by illness in the 1990s, although I’m not sure if there is a connection. He is remembered chiefly for his innovations in the ‘decoupling’ of instrumental technique – whereby individual performer actions (fingers, lips, bows, breath etc) were considered independently of one another, often against the grain of conventional performance practice. Among those on whom he had a great influence were Richard Barrett, Aaron Cassidy, Evan Johnson and Timothy McCormack – all composers dear to this blog’s heart and history.

Hübler’s output is not large, and it is fiendishly difficult. Nevertheless, recordings may be found, notably this double portrait disc on Telos. While you wait for that to come back into stock, here are some other things that can be found online:

Those interested in learning more about Hübler’s work may be interested in this online conversation conducted here with members of the ELISION Ensemble from 2010, discussing his music in advance of a concert that included CERCAR (I believe the video above was recorded the following day).

 

An Assembly play Feldman and Lukoszevieze

This Thursday, 22 February at Hackney Round Chapel, 7.30pm:

Jack Sheen’s An Assembly present a rare performance of one of Morton Feldman’s final works, Words and Music, a collaboration with one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, Samuel Beckett. Originally conceived as a radio-play, this 40-minute piece exhibits two of the 20th century’s greatest artists at their creative peak. Haunting fragments of text and sound gently discourse and overlap in an intimate meditation on themes such as love, age, and truth.

Alongside this will be the world premiere of Opéret OPERA Operec by the composer, cellist and multi-disciplinary artist Anton Lukoszevieze. Intended as a flexible, yet possibly unstable ‘gesamtkunstwerk’, Opéret OPERA Operec makes use of speaking, sounds, dance, music, recordings and singing to explore the poems and essays by Benjamin Péret and George Perec.

Tickets £10 / £8
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Walshe, Hartman, Takasugi, Distractfold, Kammerklang

I’m not finding time to plug as many concerts as I would like at the moment, but this one looks pretty special: the next installment of Kammerklang‘s 2017/18 season at Café Oto. Manchester’s brilliant Distractfold Ensemble play works by Hanna Hartman (pictured) and Steven Kazuo Takasugi; and Jennifer Walshe performs her There Was a Visitor. The evening begins, in the usual fashion, with a ‘fresh Klang’, this time Barblina Meierhans‘ May I ask you something? Not one to miss.

Full details here and here.

Borough New Music in 2018

borough

One of the more intriguing developments in London’s new music scene in 2017 was the founding of the Borough New Music series by pianist Clare Simmonds. These lunchtime concerts take place every Tuesday now at St George the Martyr Church on Borough High Street, near the famous market, in the shadow of the Shard and across the river from the City. (Also the church where Dickens’ Little Dorrit was christened and married.) I haven’t been able to make my way yet, but that’s something I plan to rectify in the coming weeks.

StGeorge

Lunchtime concerts are a feature of the City’s churches – but these are typically touristy pops selections, or organ recitals. Both have their place of course, but it’s nice to see the offering widening in Borough to include new music as well. Here’s hoping the series grows in strength through the year.

Programmes have been announced right up to June now and full listings can be found here. Interesting things I spotted in the next couple of months include:

23 January
Miloš Milivojević (accordion) playing music by Astor Piazzolla, Franck AngelisRobert PercyViaceslav Semenov and Victor Vlasov.

6 February
Ben Smith (piano), Kirsty Clark (viola) and Patricia Auchterlonie (soprano) playing music by Helmut Lachenmann, Richard Melkonian and Martin Lodge.

6 March
Chris Brannick (percussion) and Sara Stowe (soprano) playing music by Jorge VidalesGiacinto ScelsiAdrian SutcliffeChris Hobbs, Julie Sharpe, Mauricio Kagel, Paul Burnell, and John Cage/Erik Satie.

20 March
A toy piano special in collaboration with World Toy Piano Week – Kate Ryder plays music by Cage, Stace Constantinou, Christian BanasikJulia WolfeBrian Inglis, Yumi Hara, Katharine Norman, Meredith Monk, and Stephen Montague.

27 March
A portrait of composer Gregory Rose by Loré Lixenberg (voice), Chris Brannick (marimba) and Clare Simmonds.

All concerts start at 1pm, and all are free admission.