Borough New Music comes to an end

I was sad to read this morning that the excellent Borough New Music series has had to come to end. Over three seasons, artistic director Clare Simmonds and her team have put on a remarkable 72 lunchtime concerts in St George the Martyr Church, featuring 254 composers, 122 performers and 88 premieres. Although the stars never aligned such that I could make it (not working in central London), I had always hoped to some day; and now it seems I won’t after all.

It is with heavy hearts that we write to inform you that the planned 2019-20 Borough New Music season will not be going ahead. The team’s changing commitments have given us pause. We have come to the conclusion that the current model needs to be rethought in order for it to be sustainable in terms of time and financial commitment. We currently do not have the capacity to make the changes that Borough New Music needs, so we have been forced to adjourn.

Here is a video of highlights from BNM’s third and last season:

LCMF 2018: A Sound Map of the Hudson River

I wasn’t prepared, when I walked in to the installation of Annea Lockwood’s A Sound Map of the Hudson River (1982) at LCMF, for how familiar it would be. After all, this is a giant field recording of the most ambient, neutral of all sounds, running water; as ordinary and as ignorable as traffic noise. Yet as I stepped into the vast concrete cavern that is Ambika P3, I had a visceral hit of familiarity, of knowing, of orientation. This was, I realised, a real object, with a weight and form and identity of its own.

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A Sound Map of the Hudson River is the first of three such portraits (others are of the Danube and the Housatonic), and is related to Lockwood’s larger River Archive project, begun in the 1960s. To create the work Lockwood recorded the river in stages, moving downstream. She took recordings from the bank, at points that she deemed sonically interesting and that fit an overall sequence of contrasts and movements. The piece was thus recorded compositionally, with a final sound and structure in mind, rather than objectively; Lockwood rejected locations, for example, if they were too close to roads or presented too little of sonic interest. Once the recordings were completed, Lockwood compiled them into a montage sequence, stitched together with slow fade-ins and fade-outs. The completed work is presented with a map of the river annotated with the location, date, and time of each recording and at what point in the work they can be heard. A set of headsets also play interviews with people who live and work on the river: a fisherman, a judge, a park ranger, a farmer, an activist and a river pilot.

Its materials are so slight, so neutral, so ambient and unadorned, as to be almost not there at all. In this sense, it is a masterpiece of presence: it is so utterly present as a work in spite of that neutrality. And that goes even more as what is here and what is there is folded over and over the longer one listens. The Hudson is here; we are here on the Hudson; we are there on the map (in time now, measured by a clock on the wall; a slice of time then, Lockwood in 1982 standing by the  water’s edge); we are here in this tiny locale, the river zoomed in to a few inches around a single microphone, projected around us across a 40-foot circle of speakers.

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Almost until the end, the recordings are taken from the water’s edge: border spaces, the ribbon between this and that. The work’s focus is on touching and close sensation, not the generalised power of the river. Intimate. More interesting sonically as a result. But also more unexpected.

Rarely, even in the piece’s later stages, is the Hudson recorded as a source of power or mass. Recordings always made at the river’s edge, lapping, bubbling, the elemental mix of earth and water and air. The river is conceived less as a thing in itself than as a space around which things happen: the map is not of the river so much; the map is the river. This perspective is heightened by the addition of interviews with some of those who live and work on the river. I listened to a river pilot describe the challenges of bringing tankers, 100,000 tonnes in weight, onto the piers in New York: yet despite the huge forces involved even this was a tale of precise movements made under almost no engine at all, trusting to the silent pull of the river’s tides and currents.

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Octandre to give Frank Denyer portrait

Frank Denyer is a composer whose music I admire very deeply. There’s a reason the first main feature I published with Sounds Like Now was a profile of Denyer, written by Sam Richards.

So it’s wonderful to learn that the Octandre Ensemble are devoting a whole concert to Denyer’s music next month. On Sunday 17 June at the Coronet in Notting Hill they will perform six pieces by Denyer, from the early Unison 1 (1972) and Hanged Fiddler (1973) through to the intriguing Screens for violin, viola, female voice, percussion and dressing screens, completed this year and receiving its first full performance.

Appearing alongside Octandre will be the violinist Sarah Saviet and the soprano Juliet Fraser.

Full details of the concert are here. Tickets, at £15 each, may be purchased here.

An Assembly and Ensemble x.y

Tomorrow night, people

An assembly and ensemble x.y come together at St John’s, Waterloo tomorrow night (Friday 27 April) to play Michael Finnissy’s Piano Concert no.2, as well as works by Bryn Harrison, Paul Newland, Cassandra Miller and Anthony Leung. Piano soloist is Joseph Havlat; Jack Sheen conducts.

‘Few composers working today have managed to connect contemporary music’s expressive power as convincingly with its critical, intellectual potential.’
Guardian on the music of Michael Finnissy

‘… microscopic and cosmic in its dimensions. It was awe-inspiring.’
Sound Expanse on Bryn Harrison’s ‘Six Symmetries’

‘[Cassandra Miller’s music] allows us to hear and feel in new ways.’
Tempo magazine

Full programme:

Anthony Leung: Three Concert Pieces (I)
Paul Newland: locus
Bryn Harrison: Six Symmetries
Cassandra Miller: Philip The Wanderer
Michael Finnissy: Piano Concerto no.2

Tickets here.

Health issues mean I won’t be able to make it tomorrow but you should: these are some of my favourite composers. Ensemble x.y are a great group (check out their Resonance FM show), and Jack Sheen is putting together something special with An assembly I feel.

In case you need an extra taster, here’s Philip Thomas playing Miller’s Philip the Wanderer:

And here are An assembly playing Linda Catlin Smith’s Sarabande:

 

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.

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.