Radius, Wigmore Hall, 8 Jan 2008

Following their debut last year, this was Radius‘s second show at this prestigious and traditionally conservative venue. As before, they brought an eclectic collection of works by established modernist masters and younger British composers. Last night we were treated to pieces by Feldman, Xenakis and Vivier, as well as works by Radius’s co-founders Tim Benjamin and Ian Vine, and five short pieces composed in honour of Simon Holt’s 50th birthday. And, as before, what looked like a great programme on paper sounded surprisingly bitty in practice.

Piece by piece I had few complaints, although the Vivier (Paramirabo, 1978) really didn’t click. But then Vivier hasn’t yet done it for me in general, and this piece – of his earlier style, rather rambling, a little gimmicky, and sounding oddly like a lost English modernist – may not have been the best occasion to figure him out. Benjamin’s In memomoriam Tape Recorder didn’t quite work either, unfortunately, but this appeared hamstrung by some on-stage technical difficulties. His Three Portraits (2007, wp) were pithier and came over rather better.

Grouped compositions written for a special occasion are tricky things to review; they’re often an opportunity to hear some things by composers who have previously escaped your attention but, like free sampler CDs, they rarely give you enough to make a proper judgement. Five Birthday Cards for Simon Holt (2007, wp) was, in two instances, an exception to this rule. Larry Goves’s riviniana made more of an impression on me than his My name is Peter Stillman. That is not my real name, which I heard last month (and from which riviniana is derived). And Laurence Crane’s impossibly simple, extremely beautiful music seems perfectly suited to these things; his Simon 10 Holt 50 also best negotiated the formal difficulties of composing with such brevity.

It is a pleasure to hear an ensemble of Radius’s quality testing the Wigmore’s acoustic with some experimental repertoire, and Feldman’s Durations I (1960) was a gift in this respect. Still more successful was Xenakis’s Kottos (1977), given a powerful rendition by cellist Oliver Coates, every detail of the composer’s sonic imagination ringing clear. The other solo piece, Ian Vine’s X (2007, wp) for percussionist I thought was outstanding. I spent the first half without a programme, and could only remember the composer names, not any of the works to be performed, and I intend it as a high compliment when I say that I was pretty sure that this must have been the programmed Xenakis.

Something of an evening for individual rather than collective efforts, then. But at its core, Radius is a gifted and ambitious ensemble, playing music that few others dare touch. Once they iron out the bumps in programming, they should become a force to reckon with. Keep watching this space.

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András Szőllősy, 1921-2007

Andras Szollosy

What with the deaths of Stockhausen, Hitchcock and Peterson in December (and many others), the passing of András Szőllősy on 6th December went almost unnoticed. Coming from the same generation as Kurtág and Ligeti, however, this would not be the first time the Hungarian composer had been overshadowed by his more famous peers.

In fact, Szőllősy was, briefly, better-known than the latter in this country. Before the British première of The Messages of Miss R.V. Troussova on 18th February 1981, Kurtág was almost unknown in Great Britain; what few performances of his music there had been, which included Zoltán Kócsis playing extracts from Játékok, were almost entirely ignored. As Bartók’s posthumous significance and reputation grew, British critics spent most of the 60s and 70s sporadically searching for his Hungarian successor. Ligeti was, at this stage, ruled out on both the grounds of residence and style: not only was a great composer sought, but one who was also unmistakably Hungarian too.

By the late 1970s the efforts of a few supportive critics (including Dominic Gill, Stephen Walsh and John S. Weissmann), seemed to have got, if not quite their man, then at least their school of men. A group of composers, including Szőllősy as well as Sándor Balassa, Attila Bozay and Zsolt Durkó, started to make semi-frequent appearances on the review pages of the British musical press. In an article for the Musical Times at the start of 1981 (‘Messages from Budapest’, Musical Times, cxii (1981), 97–100), Walsh previewed several of the new Hungarian works (including Troussova, Durkó’s Burial Prayer and Szőllősy’s Trasfigurazioni) that would be heard in the forthcoming London season:

New Hungarian music – the music, that is, of the post-Bartók, post-Kodály, post-1956 era – has been nibbling away at the edges of British concert life for a decade or more, without ever really breaking through the outer crust of polite apathy. Thus names like Durkó, Szőllősy and Balassa have grown vaguely familiar to those who frequent new-music concerts, but have hardly managed to establish a definite profile, partly because performances have been few and infrequent and generally (in the nature of things) not of their composers’ most significant or substantial works. The events of this winter therefore represent something of a breakthrough for Hungarian promotion, and, one hopes, also for the music itself.

Regarding Kurtág, Walsh’s predictions could not have been more strongly affirmed: since Troussova his star has risen inexorably, confirmed most recently by the receipt of the 2006 Grawemeyer Award for Concertante op.42. Sadly for those other composers mentioned, Kurtág’s ascent confirmed him at the last as the new Bartók everyone was looking for, and although a worthy claimant his shadow suddenly obscured his contemporaries, who were almost never heard of again in the UK.

Walsh refers to the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Trasfigurazioni (“one of Szőllősy’s best works”) of December 1980, but the composer’s moment in the British sun had already passed with two performances, in 1975 and 1976, of his Concerto no.3 for 16 solo strings (1968). This had already been released on a UNESCO-sponsored recording in 1973, and was the piece that first attracted international notice to Szőllősy’s music. The mid-70s performances drew favourable reviews, including a brief analytical item by Karl Safran for Tempo in 1976, but then that was largely that.

It’s a real shame that Szőllősy’s reputation in Britain didn’t last any longer than this because he remains one of the more interesting of that middle-generation of more mainstream Hungarian composers (by which I omit those members of the Experimental Music Studio, such as Zoltán Jeny and László Sáry, who were doing things in a very different vein). This CD of mid-1970s orchestral works from BMC records is an excellent introduction to Szőllősy’s music, which one could describe as a freer, more expressionistic take on Ligeti’s or Xenakis’s polyphonic sound masses. Musica per orchestra (1972) is particularly impressive. I recommend giving him a go in 2008.

New Music in the News

The Detroit Metro Times has an article on Tony Conrad.

The Cincinnati Post reports that Penderecki will conduct his Threnody tonight and tomorrow. Given that today is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (and the choice of Threnody isn’t a coincidence, according to Cincinnati SO music director Paavo Järvi), the political waters round that piece just got murkier.

Renewable Music: Invitation: A Winter Album

Daniel Wolf is looking for new piano scores for a Winter Album.

This is an invitation to readers of this blog, a project in my small campaign to keep a repertoire of new music scores available online, a presence: to compose a short piece, for piano*, as many hands and fists and required, alone or aggrandized in any manner, perhaps a page or two of music, to be gathered into an online album of music, appropriate to the theme of Winter. Deadline: the 1st of January, 2008. Send me a pdf, with you own copyright atop, if you’d like me to host your score, or a link to your own site.

16th Festival of Experimental Music, London

LMC festival flyer

LMC’s 16th Annual Festival of Experimental Music :: Cochrane Theatre, Southampton Row, London WC1B 4AP :: November 29 thru December 1, 2007 :: Tickets: 02072691606 :: Festival Pass: £35/ LMC Members £20 :: Day Pass: £15 / LMC Members£10 / Students £5.

International in its sweep, uncompromising in its substance – Time Out :: Two dozen performers from around the world are given free reign to redefine music. Over three days they coax incredible sounds from all manner of instruments, in every conceivable way. Performers include: The elder statesman of Japanese sound-art Yasunao Tone; mesmeric minimalist legend Charlemagne Palestine; and Norbert Möslang, enigmatic torturer of household electrical goods. Group improvisations feature: Tony Buck, superlative drummer of Australia’s best export, The Necks; brilliant Belgian string virtuoso Julia Eckhardt; and sensational American trumpeter Peter Evans. And to surprise ourselves, Taku Sugimoto, whose guitar playing is so restrained as to stretch the laws of time; Bob Levene, who uses turntables as audio sculpture; and Helena Gough, who reveals the laptop as a landscape teeming with twittering life.

Thursday 29 November:
Yasunao Tone + Taku Sugimoto + Bob Levene + Angharad Davies & Julia Eckhardt & Michael Duch

Friday 30 November:
Charlemagne Palestine + Norbert Möslang + Robin Hayward & Matt Davis + Billy Roisz & Angélica Castelló

Saturday 1 December:
Peter Evans & Steve Beresford & Mark Sanders + John Butcher & Tony Buck & Burkhard Stangl + Margarida Garcia & Barry Weisblat + Helena Gough

Recent listening

This week I have been mostly listening to Nono and Radulescu, and my ears have been getting a solid workout in long-form extended instrumental techniques.

That sort of thing is all very well – and Nono’s A Pierre at the RAM on Wednesday showed that it could be deeply moving – but there’s a danger of taking it all too seriously. So Mary Dullea‘s Warehouse recital last night came as a welcome pitstop for one approaching extended technique fatigue. There was plenty on show, but all of it from composers not afraid to lighten up a bit, whether Benedict Mason’s perversions of pianism or Stephen Montague’s carefree indulgence in ringing resonances. We got a two-minute teaser for a forthcoming Jennifer Walshe piece (which involves lots of Kill Bill-style lightning punches to the piano body) and some typically chunky modernism from Pawel Szymanski. But the standout was Rolf Hind’s Towers of Silence, a work in five continuous movements that tickles the piano’s full noise-making potential from the pedals to the keyboard lid. On paper it might recall Lachenmann, but it had a tremendous lightness of spirit – appropriately it draws its title from Farsi sky burial mounds – that come from an almost accidental approach to sonic exploration, in which new discoveries are made, tossed around a bit, and perhaps remembered again much later.

A Pierre on Wednesday night struck me as my favourite sort of Nono, building fantastically detailed, improbable structures from nothing but air and the slightest vibration. At his best, Nono does something with sound and its manipulation within memory that is very special, and A Pierre nailed it for me. Funnily, Omaggio à György Kurtág – longer and for twice as many players felt too lightweight, taken past the point of evaporation where A Pierre held itself between two states. Unfortunately, Noontides, by RAM composer Alexander Campkin, felt leaden and overwhelmed in such auspicious company.

Welcome – and pull up a Schaeffer

Welcome to all those arriving here from Alex’s kind words in the New Yorker this week. This isn’t really an mp3 blog (although I have posted some avant-garde mixtapes of my own in the past), but I’ve just uploaded these for someone else, so I might as well share the links here.

If you thought the Polish avant garde of the 1960s was all about Penderecki and 101 Penderecki-clones, then say hi to Boguslaw Schaeffer. Schaeffer is one of the most interesting composers to come out of that whole period in Polish music – he’s known as a playwright and graphic artist these days, and both the visual and the theatrical feed into his music. I understand he’s known in the US mostly for his Introduction to Composition (1974).

Schaeffer notation

I don’t know nearly enough of Schaeffer’s work first hand; probably the most well-known piece of is the 1966 Symphonie, which appears on those fantastically expensive Electronic Panorama LPs that Philips put out years ago. I gave it another listen today (no, I don’t have the LP, no I wouldn’t sell it if I did); it’s not that great actually, and I have a feeling the mp3 I’ve got cuts it short anyway. But here are a couple of other Schaeffer schlices:

Little Symphony: Scultura: http://rapidshare.com/files/62731840/03_Little_Symphony__Scultura.mp3.html

Recorded at the 1969 Warsaw Autumn by the Poznań PSO and Andrzej Markowski. Composed in 1960.

Quartet 2 + 2: http://rapidshare.com/files/62723368/BSchaeffer_Quartet.mp3.html

I’ve previously mentioned Zygmunt Krauze’s new music ensemble Warsztat Muzyczne; this is a piece Schaeffer wrote for them (they perform it here), and is a minor classic of its type in Polish music. (You might remember this from my first Blogariddims contribution.) I love it – it sounds like mayhem, but it holds together somehow to moving effect.

There’s very little writing on Schaeffer in English – Adrian Thomas’s book on Polish music is your best bet (and contains more examples of his amazing graphic notation). If you’re OK with German, then this is the book you need. This book also looks very desirable.

New Music on a Shoestring – October

Better late than never, and there’s still a ton of new music available for £6 or less around the UK this month.

17th October

Royal Academy of Music, 7.30pm, £6/£4 conc.

The Academy’s Manson Ensemble make their first contribution to the Nono-ganza with a concert of mutual modernist back-slapping – Boulez’s Dérive I and Kurtág’s Requiem for the Beloved are accompanied by Nono’s A Pierre and Omaggio à György Kurtág, plus a new work by Academy composer Alexander Campkin. Not including Kurtág’s Omaggio à Luigi Nono seems like an opportunity missed, but should be a great concert. More info.

19th October

Royal Academy of Music, 7.30pm, £6/£4 conc.

The Academy Manson Ensemble again, playing more Nono (Polifonica-monodia-ritmica), with Dallapiccola’s Piccola musica notturna, Maderna’s Serenata per un satellite and Schoenberg’s Serenade, plus a new piece by Patrick Nunn. More info.

21st October

St Margaret’s Church, Victoria Avenue, Finchley, 2.30pm, free

Chamber group Sounds Positive (who were once kind enough to play a piece of mine, back when I did that kind of thing) play a programme that includes works by John Stanley, Avril Anderson and a new piece by David Sutton-Anderson. More details from 020 83492317.

22nd October

Royal Academy of Music, 6.00pm, free

More Nono at the RAM; this time Academy soloists get in on the act with Maderna’s Dialodia, Varèse’s Density 21.5, Nono’s ‘Hay que caminar’ soñando and a new work by Paul Evernden. More info.

22nd-23rd October

UCE Birmingham Conservatoire

Independently of all the Nono going on in London, the UCE Birmingham Conservatoire are holding a mini-festival of new Italian music. The two-day event features four concert:

22nd October: Recital Hall, 3pm, £3

Video presentation featuring electro-acoustic works by composers from the Edison Studio – Mauro Cardi, Alessandro Cipriani, Luigi Ceccarelli and Fabio Cifariello Ciardi. More info.

Recital Hall, 7pm, £5/£3

Electro-acoustic concert featuring works by Giacomo Manzoni, Agostino Di Scipio, Azio Corghi, Giorgio Tedde, Luca Francesconi and Aldo Clementi. More info.

23rd October: Recital Hall, 3pm, £3

A second pre-concert video presentation, focussing on MM&T composers, Walter Prati, Matteo Pennese and Nicola Sani.

Recital Hall, 7pm, £5/£3

The second concert features works by Luciano Berio, Mauro Cardi, Gabriele Manca, Walter Prati, Fausto Sebastiani and Michele Tadini.

26th October

St Anne and St Agnes, Gresham Street, London, 1.10pm, free

Rarescale Flute Academy play selections from Birtwistle’s Duets for Storab, alongside pieces by Victoria and Mozart. More info.

29th October

Recital Hall, UCE Birmingham Conservatoire, 7pm, £5/£3

The Fitzwilliam String Quartet and Suzanna Purkis, voice, present works by Joanna Lee, Liz Johnson, Philip Cashian, Simon Hall, Lamberto Coccioli and Michael Wolters. More info.

30th October

Institute of Medical Sciences, Foresterhill, Aberdeen, 5.30pm, free

Rohan de Saram, cello, plays Bach’s Suite no.3, Isang Yun’s Glisees and Ligeti’s Sonata. More info. (Part of the wider sound festival.)

31st October

Doncaster Museum Art Gallery, Chequer Road, Doncaster, 1pm, £3/£2/£1

Pianist Stephen Beville gives a lunchtime recital that includes Beethoven’s E flat sonata, Berio’s Four Elemental Preludes, Liszt’s Sonata après une lecture de Dante and Beville’s own Scenes from Dreams.
More info.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 10pm, £5

Naturally the Pollini recital earlier in the evening (featuring … sofferte one serene …) is the big event, but don’t sleep on this one. The dream team pairing of Irvine Arditti (vn) and André Richard (elecs) are brought together for a late night performance of Nono’s hair-raising, epic and absolutely extraordinary La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura. More info. Read more about La lontananza here.