Secret Music: July

(Click for the background to the Secret Music listings.)

Friday 4 July: Silk Street Music Hall, GSMD | Plus Minus | 7.00pm | FREE

Plus-Minus ensemble present five new works by postgraduate Guildhall composers, and a rare opportunity to hear Peter Ablinger’s experimental Amtssee bei Regen.

Friday 4 July: St Mary at Hill | 7.30pm | £8 advance/£10 on the door

The 10th season of Music We’d Like to Hear gets underway, with new support from Sound and Music (as co-producers) and as always a lush programme of three concerts on three Fridays curated by three composers. First up is Tim Parkinson’s concert, Drums and Piano: pieces by Matteo Fargion, Jonathan Marmor (whose Cattle in the Woods was a memorable feature of last year’s programme), Makiko Nishikaze, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Kunsu Shim and Christian Wolff, played by Adam Morris (percussion) and Parkinson (piano).

Friday 4 July: Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham | Smith Quartet and Joby Burgess | 7.30pm | £18

Music for string quartet (with or without percussion) at the Cheltenham Music Festival: Steve Reich, Different Trains; new piece by Graham Fitkin; Steve Martland, Starry Night.

Saturday 5 July: York Unitarian Chapel | Steve Martland tribute | 7.30pm | £10/£8 concs

More Martland: York’s Late Music Ensemble (specially formed for the occasion) will perform a tribute concert to the late composer, who died last May featuring performances of his ReveilleRemembering Lennon and Kick, as well as pieces by Louis Andriessen, Jeremy Dale Roberts, Roger Marsh and James Whittle.

Sunday 6 July: Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham | Tokaido Road | 4.30pm | £20

Cheltenham again, for the premiere of Nicola LeFanu’s new multi-media chamber opera Tokaido Road, set in 19th-century Japan and following the story of the artist Hiroshige. Created and commissioned by Okeanos, with a libretto by Nancy Gaffield.

Friday 11 July: St Mary at Hill | 7.30pm | £8 advance/£10 on the door

Second instalment of Music We’d Like to Hear, curated by Markus Trunk. Pieces for string quartet by Joanna Bailie, Carola Bauckholt, Matteo Fargion, Jo Kondo and Luiz Henrique Yudo (another highlight from last year). All played by the Ligeti Quartet.

Sunday 13 July: Cafe Oto | Laurence Crane CD launch | 8pm | £8 advance/£10 on the door

Apartment House give the UK premiere of Harley Gaber’s legendary The Winds Rise in the North (1973–4) for amplified string quintet, described by Keith Fullerton Whitman as ‘one of the holy grails of early minimalism’.

Tuesday 15 July: Cafe Oto | Laurence Crane CD launch | 8pm | £8 advance/£10 on the door

Launch concert for Apartment House’s long anticipated double CD of Laurence Crane’s chamber music (another timbre). Concert to include several pieces from the CD, performed by Apartment House.

Review of this (very special) CD to follow soon.

Friday 18 July: St Mary at Hill | 7.30pm | £8 advance/£10 on the door

Third instalment of Music We’d Like to Hear, curated by John Lely. Music for viols and objects by Antoine Beuger, William Lawes, Alvin Lucier, Taylan Susam and Christian Wolff. Played by Phantasm and the MWLTH ensemble.

Friday 25 July: Schotts recital room, 48 Great Marlborough Street | Dave Smith | 6.30pm | £10/£8 concs

A pre-65th birthday concert of works by Dave Smith performed by the composer. Programme to include Ogive 1African MosaicGuarachaFrivolous and Vexatious and 8 pieces from the 1st Piano Concert.

The Webern to Lutosławski’s Schoenberg: Włodzimierz Kotoński

Among a recent batch of CDs kindly sent to me by the Polish Music Information Centre (see also my thoughts on José-María Sánchez Verdú’s Libro de las estancios), was a disc of works by Włodzimierz Kotoński, composed between 1959 and 1975 and released as Polskie Nagrania PNCD 1521. I’ve long maintained that the most interesting composers of Poland’s avant-garde were not those who made their global names in and around 1960, through exposure at the early Warsaw Autumn festivals, but those who hit their stride later in the decade and at the start of the 1970s. Kotoński may have made his mark early on – his Study on One Cymbal Stroke of 1959 is Poland’s first piece of music for tape – but on this evidence he belongs to the latter group, and adds weight to my argument. (Adrian Thomas also notes how welcome this, and similar recent releases from Polskie Nagrania, are to our understanding of post-war Polish music.)

The most remarkable piece here is Aeolian Harp, composed in 1972–3. It is described as being for soprano and four instrumentalists, but that doesn’t properly convey an image of what the piece is like. Firstly, the soprano is not a soloist, but a textless instrument (and to my ears may even have the least amount to do of the ensemble). Secondly, the four instrumentalists play a total of 12 instruments between them – three zithers, classical guitar, electric bass, lute, psaltery, two Jew’s harps, small bells, recorder and electronic organ.

As a studio pioneer, Kotoński clearly thinks in terms of timbre parameters and their organisation. With perhaps the lute at one end and the voice at the other, his instrumental line-up makes for a steady continuum of sonic envelopes from hard attack+quick decay to soft attack+infinite decay. With the bass and Jew’s harps, there are also some interesting wah-wah variations in the middle. I’m put in mind of Boulez’s instrumentation for Le marteau sans maïtre, which can be lined up in a similar way from percussion to voice. (And Kotoński’s Music for 16 Cymbals and Strings of 1969 may even be thought of as a dialogue those two extremes, but without the middle.)

But the composer Aeolian Harp reminds me most of is Feldman. Kotoński’s piece is quasi-minimalistic in its construction, being built of slowly transforming ostinati, layered on top of each other. But unlike the music of, say, Reich, the interest is not in locking on to a groove and following its process of evolution, but in the global state of the sound or texture at any given point. Actually, having said that it’s most like Bryn Harrison, although about 30 years before the fact, and even then the comparison doesn’t capture the sometimes rapid and unsettling contortions that Kotoński puts his material through. Its connections to its Polish predecessors can also be heard – the whole piece is an extrapolation of the mobile episodes used by Lutosławski and occasionally Penderecki, but without the attachment to an older, symphonic ideal. It’s like the Webern to their Schoenberg.

Anyway, a remarkable piece in its own right, despite the number of comparisons to other composers I’ve just made. The performance on the Polskie Nagranie disc was recorded live at the 1975 Warsaw Autumn festival (there’s one huge cough from the audience midway through), but the playing, by Roswitha Trexler (soprano), and Karlhenz Böttner, Hubert Rutkowsk, Czesław Pałkowski and Bernd Dyckhoff, is on the money.

Secret Music: June

(Click for the background to the Secret Music listings.)

Bit London-based again this one: if you have a concert elsewhere in the UK that you think I should consider listing, please get in touch.

Tuesday 3 June: Cafe Oto | Kammer Klang | 8pm | £7

Neil Luck and Adam de la Cour will be performing their duo-version of Kurt Schwitters’ classic Ursonate. Expect two men, ACME duck calls and 6ft of plastic tubing. Zubin Kanga will be performing Z/K, written for him by Michael Finnissy, and there will also be Berio, Xenakis, James Saunders and some live black MIDI. Like the blurb says, schwittloads of notes.

Wednesday 4 June: The Forge, Camden | Fidelio Trio and Ensemble Matisse | 7.30pm | £12.50/£10

The Fidelio Trio and Ensemble Matisse come together in a concert of works by British and European composers. Full programme:

  • Harrison Birtwistle: Piano Trio
  • David Fennessy: Music for the Pauses in a Conversation between John Cage and Morton Feldman
  • Claudia Molitor: after the strangely monumental
  • Johannes Maria Staud: Für Bálint András Varga
  • Philippe Hersant: Nachtgesang
  • Karol Beffa: La tristesse du roi (new arrangement; WP)
  • Guillaume Connesson: Adams Variations
  • Pascal Dusapin: invece

Tuesday 10 June: The Forge, Camden | New Dots | 7.30pm | £12.50/£10 on the door (£11/£9 online)

New Dots give  a programme of new music for piano and percussion by up and coming composers. Full programme:

Performed by Siwan Rhys (piano) and George Barton (percussion)

Tuesday 10 June: Hundred Years Gallery | clapTON ensemble | 7.30pm | £5

East London’s clapTON ensemble play works by Rebecca Saunders, Pierluigi Billone, Tristan Perich, Luciano Azzigotti, Santiago Díez Fischer and Anna Romashkova at the Hundred Years Gallery in Hoxton.

Thursday 12 June: City University | Mark Knoop/Gwenaëlle Rouger | 7pm | FREE

Knoop and Rouger piano duo, with added electronics from Newton Armstrong. Full programme:

  • Georg Friedrich Haas – Ein Schattenspiel
  • Ben Smith – the ineluctable modality of the audible (Water Music) (WP)
  • Georges Aperghis – Dans le mur
  • Georgia Rodgers – cut it out (WP)
  • Michael Beil – Doppel

Free to attend, but please book a place.

Sunday 15 June [NB: Date corrected]: Whitechapel Gallery | Voice and the Lens | 12pm | £12.50/£10

This brilliant festival of the human voice returns after its first incarnation at IKON gallery in 2012. Highlights include: Bill Viola’s Anthem; Bruce McLean and Adam de la Cour’s Drumstick; Anri Sala’s Answer Me; Robert Ashley’s classic Atalanta Strategy; recent work by Imogen Stidworthy, Helen Petts, Laure Prouvost, Neil Luck and Lina Lapelyte; Mikhail Karikis and specially-made new work by AMAE and Pier Giorgio De Pinto with philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy.

Monday 16 June: Deptford Town Hall | Ian Pace | 7.30pm | FREE

Ian Pace performs Goldsmiths student compositions alongside British premieres of music by Walter Zimmerman, Rebecca Saunders and Alistair Zaldua, the European premiere of some very old Ferneyhough, and more. Full programme:

  • Brian Ferneyhough: Invention (1965) (European Premiere)
  • Brian Ferneyhough: Lemma-Icon-Epigram (1981)
  • Nigel McBride: Juncture 1 (2012)
  • Alistair Zaldua: Spagyrea (2013-14)
  • Rebecca Saunders: shadow (2013)
  • Lauren Redhead: i am but one small instrument (2012)
  • Robin Haigh: Can You Hear Him Singing? (2014)
  • Natasha Prendergast: The Atonal Verses (2013)
  • Walter Zimmermann: Voces Abandonadas (Antonio Porchia), primera serie (2005)
  • Adam de la Cour: Holy Toledo (2013–14)

Tuesday 17 June: Royal Academy of Music | Zubin Kanga | 6pm | FREE

Pianist Zubin Kanga plays works written for him in collaboration with the their composers by Elo Masing, Michael Finnissy, David Gorton, David Young, Patrick Nunn and George Benjamin. Full programme:

  • Elo Masing: Studies in Resonance II
  • Michael Finnissy: Z/K
  • David Gorton: Orfordness
  • David Young: Not Music Yet
  • Patrick Nunn: Morphosis
  • George Benjamin: Piano Figures

Wednesday 25 June: Harwich Festival | Ein Brise | 6.30pm | FREE

Kagel’s famous piece for 111 cyclists receives its first outing in Scotland an outing as part of the Harwich Festival of the Arts (25 June–6 July). Free to watch; it starts on Harwich Green.

José María Sánchez-Verdú: Libro de las estancias

A recording of José María Sánchez-Verdú’s Libro de las estancias (The Book of Abodes) appears on the first documentation CD from the 2013 Warsaw Autumn Festival. An hour-long music theatre/installation piece, it makes use of spatial distribution of its performers, lighting effects, electronics, and a mobile audience.


In how it relates space and time to musical sound, the piece owes much to Nono’s Promoteo. The connection is more than coincidental, since it makes use of an ‘auraphone’, an ‘installation-instrument’ developed at the Freiburg Experimentalstudio with Joachim Haas for Sanchez-Verdú’s opera Aura. The idea of the auraphone is to create a space in which resonating instruments – such as gongs and tam-tams – can interact with the voices and instrumental performers. It isn’t played as such; it responds autonomously to the sounds created around it. However, it is controlled from the mixing desk, so its compositional function goes beyond that of, say, Radulescu’s upturned pianos (‘sound icons’). The effect, however, of a sonically excited, mobile, plasmatic space very definitely connects with both Radulescu and Nono.


I’m still acquainting myself with Sánchez-Verdú’s output; I wrote a short note about his SCRIPTVRA ANTIQVA (2008) from the Neue Vocalisten Stuttgart CD of madrigals on col legno a couple of months ago for Little Star, but beyond that I don’t know much. (On that occasion I admired how well he managed to sustain a meaningful musical continuity despite an almost complete erasure of his material.) The composer describes Libro de las estancias variously as ‘a pilgrimage through seven abodes’, ‘a poetic reflection on sound, space, light, and the voice’, and ‘a great palimpsest composed as a meditation on a part of Spain’s history that goes beyond the merely sociological or political reality of the period ushered in by the expulsion of the Moriscos (Moorish converts) after the 1609 decree’.

So as well as its contemporary installation aspects, it is also a meditation on 16th-century Al-Andalus, on Moorish Spain and the hybridity of Western and Arab perspectives. Sánchez-Verdú delineates these according to differing ways of organizing space, time, sound, light, and life, derived from the Arab desert or the Greco-Roman city. The texts reflect this duality, taken from the forged Torre Turpiana mansucript, and the Codex Calixtinus, as does the use and antiphonal distribution of two solo singers, one Arab and one Western. The result, however, partly thanks to the auraphone and partly thanks to Sánchez-Verdú’s light-handed techniques of collage and layering, is of a continuous space rather than a confrontational one.

There’s a short video introduction to the piece’s performance at Warsaw Autumn last year here:

The first two images used in this post have been taken from that video.

Nat Evans: Composing the Pacific Crest

Right now, composer Nat Evans is walking. That I’m pretty sure of. As I write this, on 6th May 2014, I think he’s somewhere in the south California wilderness, just north of the Anza Borrego Desert, maybe heading towards the Cleveland National Forest.

I know this much because since last week, and through to mid-September, Evans is walking the 2633-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada as a ‘mobile residency’, under the title The Tortoise and His Raincoat. He’ll be writing a new long-form composition as he goes, but mostly he’ll be walking: 20 miles a day for five months, through deserts and forests, around lakes, and up mountains. The journey itself will be solitary for the most part – although as his Twitter feed already reveals, you’re never alone for long on the PCT – but he has musical collaborators along the way, in the shape of composers Carolyn Chen, Scott Worthington, Andrew Tholl, Brenna Noonan, Chris Kallmyer, Scott Unrein, John Teske, and Hanna Benn.

Musical walks have a long and varied history. One of the first and possibly most famous is the 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck supposedly walked by the 17-year-old J.S. Bach in order to hear Buxtehude play. More recent practices are summarized in a chapter for the Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music, in which John Levack Drever mentions, among others, the following: Mahler’s hikes in the Tyrol; Percy Grainger’s Walking Tune; Satie the flaneur; Pauline Oliveros’ Extreme Slow Walk; Cage the forager; the soundwalks of Hildegard Westerkamp, Janet Cardiff, and Christina Kubisch; the Fluxus walks of Higgins, Yoko Ono, and Alison Knowles; Schafer; Cardew; and Bruce Nauman. One might add more. Drever mentions Cage’s Musicircus, in which the audience walks among the performers, and there are many comparable examples by composers as varied as Alvin Curran, Lisa Bielawa, Wolfgang Mitterer, and Lasse Thoresen. Then there are Peter Ablinger’s ‘Transition Pieces’, sorts of variants on the 4’33” idea for walking listeners. And Ellen Fullman’s work should also be counted. Since her early sound sculpture/performance piece, Metal Skirt Sound Sculpture – an amplified metal skirt that was ‘played’ as the performer walked – walking has played a significant role in her music-making. There’s a video of Fullman walking the piece through downtown Minneapolis in 1980 here:

Compare this to Fullman’s more recent work with the ‘long string instrument’ for which she has been best know over the last three decades or so. Again, the act of walking is essential to activating the instrument, this time simply because it is so big. As she developed a notation for performing on the LSI, Fullman incorporated numbers on the floor spaced a metre apart beneath the instrument. Using these in combination with durational indications, it is possible to notate the speed at which one walks up and down the string, and therefore certain characteristics of its resonance.

Evans’ walk has its own artistic forebears. He cites Marina Abramovic and Vito Acconci as inspirations for a particular kind of art-as-social-practice model. And within music, Craig Shepard’s On Foot project is also clearly related. But there is a spiritual dimension too: ‘As a long-time Zen Buddhist, I am also interested in the historical practice of pilgrimage and poetry-and-prose mixed thoughts in the form of travelogue from walking journeys.’ Evans also cites ancient Chinese scholars who would walk high into the mountains with their qin in order to gather, by playing and composing, the sounds they found there before presenting them to their colleagues in small concerts. In his 21st-century version, Evans will be making field recordings along the walk and posting them to his eight composer-collaborators, who will write musical responses to them. These will be collected together, along with Evans’ own long-form composition (as yet unformulated, but ‘I imagine the music I write will in the end at least in corporate a few field recordings in some way or another’), and released next year on Quakebasket Records.

Art historian and curator Nicolas Bourriaud considers journey forms an important part of the ‘radicant’ or ‘altermodern’ aesthetic. Here, the journey, rather than the destination, becomes the crucial form of contemporary art, a way of capturing a range of realities of 21st-century life, from globalization to identity impermanence to ecological precariousness. He cites, among many other works, Gabriel Orozco’s Yielding Stone, a 150-pound plasticine ball that the artist rolled through the streets of New York City, collecting and marking its surface with whatever detritus lay in its path.

Orozco’s plasticine ball weighed approximately the same as him, and Evans also expects to be marked and shaped by his journey: ‘As I strive to embrace constant change on this journey, so too will my music and every-day-life upon my return.’

Nat Evans will be writing monthly blogposts for NewMusicBox as he walks, and pieces will be posted to his Soundcloud page throughout the summer. You can also follow his progress on Twitter and Instagram. Donations towards the project and pre-orders of the forthcoming album can be made through Hatchfund.

Parkinson Saunders coming to Kings Place

I haven’t decided which side of ‘secret’ concerts at Kings Place sit on, so I don’t always include them in my Secret Music listings. I know, rod for my own …

However, if you’re in London on 11 May – rather than in Glasgow for Tectonics, Leeds for the Freiburg/Leeds percussion ensembles, or Oxford for Riot Ensemble’s Zivkovic premiere – then you probably do want to know about this:

Sunday 11 May: Kings Place, London | Parkinson Saunders | 4pm | £9.50

Tim Parkinson and James Saunders bring their irreverent experimentalism to Kings Place with a concert of new pieces by Tim Parkinson, Stefan Thut, Matteo Fargion, James Saunders, John White and Travis Just.

I’ve been told there will be shouting, Brazilian rhythms, box pushing, noise guitar, story telling and even a little voluntary audience participation. Should be excellent.

Secret Music: May

(Click for the background to the Secret Music listings.)

Big month this one. A lot going on at the University of Leeds in the first half of the month, including their annual contemporary music weekend, from the 9th to the 11th. On the same weekend: Glasgow’s Tectonics Festival. Plus loads elsewhere too. Now updated with details of Sounds New.

Friday 2 May – Friday 9 May: Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival, Canterbury | various venues, times & prices

Argh, how did I miss including Sounds New the first time I posted? Canterbury’s new music festival is always interesting, and this year is no exception. The full week’s programme can be viewed here, but among the highlights that caught by eye are a new piece by Janek Schaefer; a concert by the London Sinfonietta of music by Cardew, Rzewski and Andriessen, and Johannes Kreidler’s Fremdarbeit (the first of at least two outings for this piece in the UK this summer); Sam Bailey doing a Ross Bolleter on a woodland piano; Lauren Redhead playing music for organ and electronics; and a Migro Records portrait.

Friday 2 May: Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds | LSTwo | 6pm | FREE

Leeds School of Music’s new music ensemble, directed by Mic Spencer, performs Birtwistle’s Tragoedia, a rare performance of James Dillon’s Zone (…de azul), and Emmanuel Nunes’ tour-de-force Improvisation I.

Saturday 3 May: Hundred Years Gallery, Hoxton | Weisslich | 7.00pm | FREE/£5 donation

Concert put together by Louis D’Heudieres of predominantly London and Huddersfield based composers, plus some Fluxus classics. Full programme:

Jammie Nicholas: Spandex and gobstoppers
Michael Baldwin: whistles whittling
Alison Knowles: shoes of your choice
David Pocknee: Pieces From @textscoreaday and Fluxus
Charlie Sdraulig between
Peter Ablinger/Louis d’Heudieres: variations on “panpiece” from WEISS/WEISSLICH 7
Louis d’Heudieres: Reconstruction #2 (some of the sounds may be replicable)
Andy Ingamells: How To Explain Songs To A Jellied Eel
George Brecht: Comb Music

Monday 5 May: Café Oto | Bryn Harrison’s Vessels | £6 adv/£8 on the door | 8pm

First London performance of the extended version of Bryn Harrison’s Vessels, recently released by another timbre. (A release that will be reviewed here soon.)

Thursday 8 – Friday 16 May: Dark Inventions: Firewheel | UK tour, various venues, times & prices

New music group Dark Inventions will be touring their show of music by Stef Connor, Benjamin Gait, Patrick John Jones, Christopher Leedham, Martin Scheuregger and Philip Cashian to Manchester, York, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool. See website for full details.

Friday 9 – Sunday 11 May: Tectonics Glasgow | various venues, times & prices

The BBC Scottish SO’s Tectonics Festival returns after its acclaimed first year. See the festival website for full details, but highlights include world premieres by John Oswald, Georg Friedrich Haas, James Weeks, Michael Finnissy, Klaus Lang and Sarah Kenchington, plus performances by EXAUDI, Christian Wolff and Thurston Moore.

Friday 9 May: Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds | Heather Roche | 1.05pm | FREE

Clarinetist Heather Roche plays solo works by Martin Iddon, Pedro Alvarez, Charlie Sdraulig and Michael Baldwin.

Friday 9 May: Norfolk Music Room, Victoria and Albert Museum | Mainly Two | 6.30pm | FREE

Violin duo Mainly Two (John Garner and Marie Schreer) play pieces (many of them new) by Charlie Sdraulig, Giovanni Cacioppo, Lauri Supponen, Tomi Räisänen, Cameron Graham, Noam Faingold, Jed Backhouse and Michael Oliva.

Saturday 10 May: Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds | Distractfold | 7.30pm | £8 (students + children FREE)

Distractfold presents a programme featuring a world premiere by Ben Isaacs (Distractfold Commission), the UK premiere of Spanish composer Abel Paul’s Linea de Vacío (Gaudeamus Musikweek 2010 selection), Martin Iddon’s Danaë for string trio, Distractfold co-director Sam Salem’s Dérive (Concours Luc Ferrari 2012 commission) and Canadian composer David Berezan’s acousmatic work, Thumbs.

Sunday 11 May: Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds | Percussion ensembles of the Musikhochschule Freiburg and the University of Leeds | 3pm | £8 (students + children FREE)

The percussion ensembles of the Musikhochschule Freiburg (Germany) and the University of Leeds present a works inspired by diverse natural elements, culminating in Iannis Xenakis’ seminal percussion sextet, Pleiades.

Sunday 11 May: Brasenose College, Oxford, Riot Ensemble | 9pm | FREE

Concert of Bach, Crumb and Debussy that also includes the UK premiere of I Shall Contemplate by Grawemeyer award-winning composer Djuro Zivkovic.

Monday 12 May: Senate House, University of London | Christian Wolff | 5pm | FREE

Fresh from his appearances at Glasgow’s Tectonics, Christian Wolff gives a talk on his music, followed by a short concert of his pieces given by Apartment House.

Tuesday 20 May: The Forge, London | Riot Ensemble | 7.30pm | £12/£10

The Riot Ensemble marks the anniversary of Dutilleux’s death with a performance of his Les citations, plus new pieces by Jose Manuel Serrano, Jenna Lyle, Arne Gieshoff, Chris Roe, Amy Beth Kirsten and Drew Schnurr, Ken Hesketh’s transcription of Dutilleux’s piano piece Blackbird, and Arlene Sierra’s Petite Grue. Pre-concert talk at 6.30pm.

Wednesday 21 May: St. John’s College, Cambridge | Riot Ensemble | 7.30pm | £10/£5

Same programme as above.

A late late report from the London Ear

Gwyn Pritchard and Andrea Cavallari hadn’t planned on running a second edition of their contemporary music festival, the London Ear, quite so soon after the first. Yet that proved such a success last year that they consented to do something like an edition 1.5, a halfway house before a larger event, perhaps in 2015 or 2016. But the process overtook the planning, and before long a four-day programme of events was in place and the Second London Ear was on its way.

Taking place a month ago now (sorry …) this was an event that very much built upon its achievements last year. The festival seems to to have found an audience for itself – one that I’m pleased to say includes many unfamiliar faces. The three young performers who were introduced last year – Jenni Hogan (flute), Stephen Upshaw (viola) and Tom Bayman (cello) – were given a second opportunity to show their work, in the festival’s opening reception concert. Once again we were hosted by the Warehouse and Cello Factory in Waterloo, this time surrounded by the paintings of Gillian Ingham. And once again there was a very convivial, I guess ’boutique’ atmosphere that comes from this being a compact festival that places a premium on interaction and engagement.

As well as the three young performers, this year the festival players were accordionist Eva Zöllner, violinist Victoria Johnson, the London Sinfonietta, 7090, We Spoke, Uroboros, and an impromptu trio of three soloists from Berlin, Antje Mart Schäffer (soprano), Franka Herwig (accordion) and Matthias Bauer (double bass). I was also involved in a small way, hosting first a preview show on Resonance FM a week before the festival, and then chairing three composer roundtable conversations before the evening concerts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.



(l–r: Georg Katzer, Gwyn Pritchard, me, Eric de Clercq, Andrea Cavallari, talking before the Saturday evening concert)

I missed the daytime concerts by Zöllner and Johnson, as well as 7090 and We Spoke’s joint brunch concert on the Sunday, but I still made it to six more in the four days. Too many pieces and too many performances for me to give a detailed run-down of everything, but here are some of my highlights:

  • Georg Katzer’s Three Disparate Essays in the London Sinfonietta’s Friday night concert was truly startling. Just so imaginative, accommodating without ever being obvious, clever without being smug, and quite quite beautiful. Possibly my favourite single piece of the weekend, and really sensitively played by the Sinfonietta’s Timothy Lines, David Alberman and Rolf Hind. (Katzer was also a good sport in taking part in all three of my pre-concert roundtable, and an interesting man.)
  • Bauer was one of the festival’s star soloists: on Friday night his brilliant (and funny) clown-like double bass and voice improvisation almost stole the show. He was as good again the following evening in Helmut Oehring’s bass solo, Baudelaire (envirez-vous!).
  • I liked both Oehring pieces in that concert – the other being the accordion solo gestopfte LEERE.
  • In fact, that early Saturday evening concert – shared by 7090, the Berlin soloists and Serge Vuille (percussion) – may have been the festival’s best in terms of the strength of its pieces: I liked Pritchard’s Three Songs of Mass and Motion, and Cavallari’s Ieri ho sofferto il dolore matched its origins in the troubling life story of poet Alda Merini; both pieces specially written for the festival. Strange Desires by Trevor Grahl, a “bizarre quasi-cabaret” well suited the personae of the three 7090 players, and made an interesting companion piece to the two extracts from bas&koen&nora that we had heard from the same players the night before. Kagel’s Tango Aleman, also part of the same concert, maintained the buffo-serio mood.
  • Of the final concert, Heinz Holliger’s 1966 Trio was the stand out piece, and made a fittingly high quality conclusion to the festival.

Lots of good things then. But with the festival looking ahead to its third instance, it’s not inappropriate to cast a more critical eye too. One thing that does characterise the London Ear is its reliance on smaller pieces, generally for just one, two, or three instruments. Besides helping with certain structural and financial impositions, this has some artistic benefits: the festival is able to shine a light on some overlooked areas of the repertoire that don’t attract much support from the larger institutions. It is also able to include an attractively wide spread of composers within a relatively short space of time. And the listening experience itself gains a certain intimacy when the concerts are on this scale, as I have already suggested. These things are all great, and are essential to the festival’s style.

However, at the same time this approach does mean that many of the composers who are featured are represented only by their slighter compositions. When so many of these are so rarely heard in the UK at all, it seems a pity not to be able to profile one or two of them to a deeper extent. The same might be said of some of the better-known composers too. It was a shame, for example, to have 7090 more or less in residence at the festival, but to have them only perform two pieces from the bas&koen&nora set that Michael Finnissy had written specifically for them: these were the first UK performances of any of these fascinating pieces (I believe), and given that the work is so closely associated with 7090 themselves, we may have to wait a while to hear the whole thing in this country. (You can buy a recording, however, which I recommend.) A little more variation in concert format might help accommodate this sort of thing – rather than every concert containing lots of shorter pieces. This would have helped break up the rhythm a little and, ironically, helped give the whole festival a little more focus.

Another awkward case was Serge Vuille’s performance of the flashy percussion solo Assonance VII by Michael Jarrell, as part of the 7090/Berlin trio Saturday evening concert mentioned above. Most of the music took place in a small space at the centre of the stage, between the piano and two music stands. But one end of the stage was occupied by a very large percussion set-up that visually dominated the space yet was only used for the one piece. (Here’s a video of Vassilena Serafimova playing Assonance VII in Eindhoven to give you an idea.) I enjoyed the piece, and Vuille’s performance was outstanding, but its presence on this occasion really unbalanced what was otherwise a programme with a very distinctive character of its own. The fact that this concert – which otherwise involved no Swiss players or composers – was the one supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, and was followed by a reception hosted by the Swiss Embassy, did give one pause for thought, however, about the delicate but inevitable balance between the artistic and the pragmatic.

I’m quibbling. I realise it’s very difficult to execute both things that I’m asking for here: a coherent, focussed programme that is also diverse, original and multi-faceted. The fact that it’s all done (still) with no support from any of the major UK arts organisations is a fact both remarkable and shaming. The London Ear remains an excellent new venture that I hope will cement a place as an essential part of the London new music calendar; if it can do so without having to depend on the generosity of overseas embassies, so much the better.

#promsnewmusic 2014

It’s Proms announcement time again! I’ve just been ruining Twitter for everyone by spewing out a list of all the new music being performed at this year’s festival.

Some quick observations for now:

Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies both turn 80 this year. They’re two of this country’s most important composers, no doubt, and it’s absolutely fitting that they get some recognition at this year’s Proms. However, among the 37 41 items in my list below, five of them are for Birtwistle and five are for Davies. And three of those are complete concerts, for which I haven’t bothered to list each piece. By my reckoning that means that close to a third of the new music content of this year’s Proms has been written by two octogenarian knights of the realm. Time to cast the net a bit wider perhaps?

Talking of anniversaries, peers, etc, the late Sir John Tavener gets a decent send off with two concerts featuring his music this year. That’s as many as Carter, Harvey, Henze and Nunes were given last year in their memory, between them.

The news is a little better when it comes to women composers: last year I think there were three (Burrell, Gubaidulina, Clyne). This year I count six: Panufnik, Beamish, Grime, Tabakova, Weir and Chin.

Elsewhere, more of the new music seems to be happening in the main bill this year, and not shunted out to the matinees and chamber concerts. Good. The BBC will be hoping that lightning doesn’t strike for a third time with Adams’ ill-fated Short Ride in a Fast Machine (Prom 63). Prom 72 promises “An evening of 20thC English music that looks beyond pastoral stereotypes” but manages not to find room (YET AGAIN) for a Michael Finnissy performance in the Albert Hall. Guys, Red Earth was 26 years ago.

Oh, and there’s a concert called ‘Oriental Promise‘ (Prom 16). In 2014.

As for my highlights? Much harder to pick than last year, since there are far fewer of them. Aurora’s Benedict Mason premiere (Prom 41) is a must; after that … the Francesconi (Prom 28), then either Tavener in Prom 25 or one of the Birtwistle concerts.

I’ll be honest though, there’s much more that interests me in the six concerts of the LCMF 2014 bill than the 70+ of the Proms. Here’s the list for your own perusal:

Update 1: I missed a handful of composers yesterday (Chen, Bignold, Roustom, Tiensuu), mainly because they weren’t mentioned in the headlines for their respective concerts in the guide. Some of these are big new commissions too, so it’s a shame to have to drill down to find that they’re there at all. Still that’s no excuse for me, so sorry about that.

Update 2: And another composer isn’t listed even in the guide – Tom Harrold who, according to Radio 4’s PM programme last night, is writing a piece for the Aurora Orchestra in Prom 41. However I’ll leave his name up here until I see that confirmed in the online programme.

Prom 2 Qigang Chen: Joie éternelle, UKP

Prom 4 R Panufnik: Three Paths to Peace, EP

Prom 7 J Tavener: Gnosis, WP

Prom 8 Pet Shop Boys: A Man From the Future, WP

Prom 10 D Horne: Daedalus in Flight, LP

Proms 11 and 13 (CBeebies Proms) B Bignold: Around Sound

Prom 14 S Holt: Morpheus Wakes, WP

Prom 15 J Dove: Gaia, WP

Prom 16 G Prokofiev: Vn Conc., WP

Prom 18 H Birtwistle: Night’s Black Bird

Prom 20 S Beamish: Vn Conc., LP

Prom 23 J McLeod: The Sun Dances, LP

Prom 25 J Tavener: Ikon of Light, Requiem Fragments, WP

Prom 28 L Francesconi: Duende, UKP

Saturday Matinee 2 H Birtwistle: Endless Parade

Saturday Matinee 2 PM Davies: Sinfonia

Prom 31 H Grime: Near Midnight, LP

Prom 33 H Birtwistle: Sonance Severance

Prom 35 PM Davies: Caroline Mathilde, suite

Prom 37 S Reich: It’s Gonna Rain, Desert Music

Prom 38 PM Davies: Sym no.7

Prom 39 B Rands: Pf Conc., UKP

Prom 41 D Tabakova: Spinning A Yarn

Prom 41 B Mason: Meld

Prom 46 K Roustom: Ramal

Prom 46 A Adler: Resonating Sounds

Prom 48 H Tómasson: Magma, UKP

Prom 49 J Tiensuu: Voice verser, UKP

Prom 55 U Chin: Su

Saturday Matinee 3 PM Davies portrait

Proms Chamber Music 7 J Weir: Day Break Shadows, WP

Prom 61 Z Long: Postures, EP

Prom 63 J Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Prom 63 J Adams: Sax Conc., UKP

Saturday Matinee 4 H Birtwistle portrait

Prom 67 B Ranjbaran: Seemorgh

Prom 68 J Widmann: Flûte en suite, UKP

Prom 69 J Widmann: Teufel amore, UKP

Prom 70 PM Davies birthday concert

Prom 71 C Brubeck: Travels in Time for Three, UKP

Prom 72 H Birtwistle: Exody

Prom 75 F Cerha: Paraphrase on the Opening of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Prom 76 Gavin Higgins: Velocity, WP

LCMF 2014: programme announced

The news is out that the London Contemporary Music Festival is back. Six nights, from 26 May to 1 June, at Second Home in Shoreditch. Full programme is here.

Once again imaginative programming (for once, ‘curation’ really does seem appropriate) is the marker. So we have shows themed around neglected British composers, deconstructions of the popular song, Italian ‘colourism’ from Scarlatti to Pistoletto, and so on.

At a first glance, the bill looks thinner on the mod/comp side of things than last year. But that may be an illusion. The ‘Marxist Chillwave‘ night – a partnership with Verso books – intrigues, not least because I’m interested to see how a performance of Johannes Kreidler’s Fremdarbeit works four years down the line, and now that everyone can Google the set-up. Jennifer Walshe performing Ashley’s The Wolfman should also be a highlight; likewise Serge Vuille performing Stockhausen’s Himmels-Tür, one of the bits of KLANG that I can really get behind. And Mark Knoop will be playing one of my all-time favourite pieces, … sofferte onde serene ….

As for the things I know nothing about in advance, Peter Zinovieff’s concerto for violin and computer and Michelangelo Pistoletto’s performance piece Fourteen less one are headline grabbers, but I’m equally interested to hear how James Clarke’s Island sounds in the middle of a concert of Christopher Hobbs, John White, Gavin Bryars, etc; likewise the proposition of Wagner as an antecedent to Cardew in musical Marxism.

Conceptually ambitious as always. Tickets are on sale now: a full festival pass is just £27.