Is Cafe Oto really only 10 years old? It seems to have been around for much longer, but maybe that’s just me back-projecting London’s need for somewhere like it. Yes, there are lots of other venues where one can hear experimental, improvised and avant-garde music, but they are mostly arranged on an ad hoc basis. Transient spaces, or buildings made for other things, temporarily repurposed for the night. Oto has provided a solid centre, created an audience, stirred the stew of all these things, become a place where one can hear on equal terms – the same space, the same crowd, the same drinks – the likes of Sun Ra or Keiji Haino one night, and Jennifer Walshe or Mark Knoop another. Or, as next month’s programme allows, Moor Mother at the weekend and a Michael Pisaro residency midweek.

Oto’s rise overlapped with the BMIC’s demise, and the loss of its regular Cutting Edge concert series at the Warehouse in Waterloo. No coincidence that, surely, and I remember a sense of personal relief when some of my favourite musicians began appearing at Oto. Here’s the earliest mention I can find on the blog, from September 2008: a plug for a concert by the Parkinson Saunders duo, whom I had first encountered as performers 23 months before at the Warehouse. I reviewed the first but not the second, yet both concerts live strong in my memory. Of the second I recall in particular Paul Whitty’s turntable experiments and the choreographed semaphore-like movements of Matthew Shlomowitz’s Postcard Pieces. The gig also featured a beautifully introspective improv set by Sebastian Lexer and David Ryan that I hope wasn’t ruined when my phone bleeped instead of switching off at the start. My lowest moment as an audience member and a lesson for life. Apologies.

Anyway, it was the sort of exploratory concert at which Oto has continued to excel; and that visible excellence is, I am sure, an important reason why London’s new music scene is enjoying a period of particular vibrancy today. Series and collectives like Kammer Klang, 840, Bastard Assignments, WEISSLICH, An assembly, even LCMF – members of each have all been nurtured or had their ideas test-bedded at Oto: it is possible to put this stuff on; people will come. Here’s to ten more years.

Photo by Andrej on Flickr; CC license here.

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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:

 

#promsnewmusic 2018

The BBC Proms listings came out this morning. As usual, I’ve been tweeting the new music highlights, and collected them all below for your reference.

No time for much commentary today, I’m afraid, except to say that there’s little in here – aside from the JACK Quartet’s Prom on 13 August – that really has me excited. Lots of the new pieces are short, and lots of them are by relatively little known names – which in itself isn’t necessarily a problem of course. But I feel there’s even less sense of ambition, new music-wise, than usual. Perhaps I’m wrong – I’ve not properly digested the calendar yet and I may have missed some things. At least it seems more gender balanced than previous years.

Prom 1 (First Night)
Anna Meredith – Five Telegrams, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e8j3v2

Prom 3
James MacMillan – Britannia
David Bruce – Sidechaining, wp
Iain Farrington – Gershwinicity, wp
Ben Foster – Fantasia on the Young Musician Theme, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/emmxp6

Proms at Cadogan Hall 1
Caroline Shaw – Second Essay: Echo; Third Essay: Ruby
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e35v9r

Prom 4
Magnus Lindberg – Clarinet Concerto
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/epp5q9

Prom 9
Eriks Esenvalds – Shadow
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/emrz3d

Prom 10
Thierry Escaich – Deux Évocations
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/erhn5v

Proms at Cadogan Hall 2
Eve Risser – Furakelà, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/edv2rz

Prom 12
Andrew Norman – new work, ukp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/exbp8g

Prom 13
Daphne Oram – Still Point, wp of revised version
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ebzcd4

Prom 15
Tansy Davies – What did we see?, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/enj5q9

Proms 19 and 20 (Ten Pieces Proms)
Includes pieces by Kerry Andrew and Mason Bates
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e94wxj

Proms at Cadogan Hall 3
Jessica Wells – Rhapsody for solo oud
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e42mzc

Prom 21
Georg Friedrich Haas – Conc. grosso no.1, ukp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ew2fbp

Prom 25
Joby Talbot – Gui Conc., wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ejncd4

Prom 28
George Benjamin – Dance Figures
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e3p5q9

Prom 29
Mark-Anthony Turnage – Maya, ukp
Anders Hillborg – Bach Materia, ukp
Uri Caine – Hamsa, ukp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ev8qwh

Prom 30
Olga Neuwirth – Aello – ballet mécanomorphe, ukp
Brett Dean – Approach – Prelude to a canon
Steven Mackey – Triceros, ukp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/eqv4mb

Proms at Cadogan Hall 4
Mark-Anthony Turnage – Farewell
Lisa Illean – Sleeplessness … Sails, wp

Prom 33
Thea Musgrave – Phoenix Rising
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ermxp6

Proms at Cadogan Hall 5
Simon Holt – Quadriga, wp
Suzanne Farrin – new work, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e58gfx

Prom 42
Arvo Pärt – Symphony no.3
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/exzcd4

Prom 43
David Robert Coleman – Looking for Palestine
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ebn3v2

Prom 47
Philip Venables – Venables Plays Bartók, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/evv4mb

Prom 49
Agata Zubel – Fireworks, ukp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e9whj5

Proms at Cadogan Hall 6
Laura Mvula – The Virgin of Montserrat
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/erbp8g

Prom 51
Per Nørgård – Sym. no. 3
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e2hn5v

Prom 52
Rolf Wallin – Vn Conc., wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/emxj6q

Proms at Cadogan Hall 7
Bushra El-Turk – Crème Brulée on a Tree, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/efxj6q

Prom 62
Iain Bell – Aurora, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e24wxj

Proms at Cadogan Hall 8
Nina Šenk – Baca, wp
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/e65d2m

Prom 73
Arvo Pärt – Nunc dimittis
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/egg9hn

Prom 75 (Last Night)
Roxanna Panufnik – Songs of Darkness, Dreams of Light
https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ewwrn3

Music after the Fall mixtape for The Lake Radio

A fun outcome of my visit to the Borealis Festival last month was an invitation from Jan Stricker of The Lake Radio to produce a new music mixtape for their podcast.

The original brief was that it would accompany an interview with Simon Steen-Andersen and Louise Alenius, so I made sure to include a track by each in there. As for the remaining artists, it’s sort of a Music after the Fall who’s who.

It has been a while since I did anything like this, and while the final result is nowhere near as densely layered as those old Blogariddims mixes, I still had a blast making it. The whole thing was put together in Audacity, texture/mood matching things along the way. Here’s a tracklist with timings:

0:00 Laurence Crane: 20th Century Music. Michael Finnissy, pf (Métier)
2:37 Liza Lim: Tongue of the Invisible. Musikfabrik, Omar Ebrahim, Uri Caine, André de Ridder (Wergo)
8:25 Pamela Z: Pop Titles “You”. (Starkland)
11:33 Chaya Czernowin: Sahaf. Ensemble Nikel (Wergo)
14:21 Simon Steen-Andersen: On and Off and To and Fro. asamisimasa (Dacapo)
18:20 Michael Finnissy: The History of Photography in Sound: I. Le demon de l’analogie. Ian Pace, pf (Métier)
24:26 Peter Garland: Another Sunrise (Mode)
27:57 Peter Ablinger: Morton Feldman, from Voices and Piano (Kairos)
29:21 Louise Alenius: Doctor Treves, from Elephant Man (Louis Alenius)
30:50 Sr. Anselme O’Ceallaigh (Jennifer Walshe): Virtue IV (Migro)
35:46 Richard Barrett: Transmission VI, from DARK MATTER. Daryl Buckley, gui (NMC)

 

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.

 

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).