Contemporary highlights in the ROH 2015/16 season

I don’t always pay attention to the season announcements from Covent Garden, but the release today of details of next year’s season caught my attention for two good reasons:

1) Georg Friedrich Haas: Morgen und Abend

I have my reservations about Haas’s music, yes, but he also does the big and dramatic better than most at the moment. Morgen und Abend, based on Jon Fosse’s novel Morgon og kveld, looks to hit all the key Haas themes: light/dark, mortality, decay. Graham Vick directs, too.

2) Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

An adaptation of the fifth and last play by the late ‘in-yer-face‘ playwright Sarah Kane, author of the notorious Blasted. Venables has the right kind of form here – witness Fight Music, from his chamber opera Les Bâtisseurs D’Empire, which he describes as ‘absurdist cartoon horror’. Sarah Kane territory, then. Yet even by her own standards 4.48 Psychosis, a portrait of clinical depression completed shortly before Kane herself committed suicide, is a dark piece. A difficult one to bring to the operatic stage, but Venables is unlikely to shy away from its subject. I’m excited about this one.

In addition to these two new works, there are also forthcoming London premieres for Donnacha Dennehy’s The Last Hotel, Mark Simpson’s Pleasure, and Iain Bell’s In Parenthesis. The ROH’s production of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest from 2013 will also go to New York and the Barbican

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Between a Zen garden and the bog: Izumi Kimura, Asymmetry

A recital CD of Japanese and Irish piano music might sound at first like an odd prospect. But for Japanese-born, Irish-resident pianist Izumi Kimura it’s an opportunity to contrast subtle, eternal naivety with colour, humour and emotion. Musically the two worlds come together extremely effectively in two pieces from Mamoru Fujieda’s Patterns of Plants II. These are based on digital analyses of the bioelectric fluctuations on the surface of a plant’s leaves, a way of hearing the plant’s ‘voice’. That might sound like sterile ground from which to begin, but Fujieda’s compositional choices give rise to cycling motifs, ringing fourths and fifths, and delicately curling melodies. On the neutral sonic territory of the piano they sound eternal and solemn, vast yet intimate, singing of both Ueno and Antrim.

Actually, I’m so bowled over by these two beautiful miniatures that the rest of the disc is hard to follow. Among my favourites of the remaining pieces, Takashi Yoshimatsu’s Apple Seed Dance is touchingly playful and Akira Miyoshi’s Mouvement Circulaire et Croisé II enigmatic and impressionistic. (It is the most interesting, I think, of the three Miyoshi pieces here.) Kimura is restrained in the two pieces by Gerald Barry, the best-known composer of this recital, taking time to build up a full head of steam in his Triorchic Blues and Swinging Tripes and Trilibubkins.

Leading Irish composer Ronan Guilfoyle is represented in two rhythmic and energetic pieces – Dance Suite no.1 and Toccata and Feud – and an interview with him and Kimura has been produced by the CMC Ireland:

This  disc is one of a set of four produced by the Irish label Diatribe as Solo Series Phase 1; the others feature the performers Isabelle O’Connell, Paul Roe and Simon Jermyn, and I hope to review them all soon.

New Music – New Ireland

My review of Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea playing new Irish music for violin and piano is now online at Musical Pointers:

The first of two concerts of new Irish music for violin and piano brought the leading duo in the field, Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea, to King’s Place for a selection of works from the more experimental and modernist fringes.

Apart from Gerald Barry’s 1998 the works were mostly short, and they made a varying impression. Frank Corcoran again convinced me that he is a composer who deserves to be better known in this country. Something about his brambly music reminds me of Maderna – not so much in its style, but in its absolute assurance in teasing lyrical forms from its knotty exterior. Quasi una preludio was precisely poised and, even with the introduction of a sean-nós melody at the end, never watered down its acid bite.

Read more here.

New Irish music at King’s Place

This Monday Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea bring a concert of contemporary Irish works for violin and piano to King’s Place. It’s the first of two violin and piano concerts devoted to new Irish music at the venue (the second, by Ioana Petcu-Colan and Michael McHale, is on 16 November) and promises a wide stylistic mix from the serial to the experimental. As well as Gerald Barry‘s ‘feverish stream of consciousness’ 1998, the concert includes world premières by Frank Corcoran, Raymond Deane and Andrew Hamilton, and recent pieces by Benjamin Dwyer, John McLachlan and Jennifer Walshe.
Gerald Barry 1998 ca’20
Raymond Deane New Work ca’5 world premiere
Benjamin Dwyer Movimientos 1 ca’6 UK premiere
John McLachlan Ghost Machine ca’6 UK premiere
Andrew Hamilton violin/piano ca’11 World premiere
Jennifer Walshe Theme from ca’8
Frank Corcoran Quasi Un Preludio (solo violin) ca’2 world premiere

More details and booking info here.