Most of today’s concerts were part of an initiative run by Sound and Music and NMC Recordings called Next Wave, showcasing the work of composers in higher education. The performances involved members of the London Sinfonietta, Sounds of the Engine House and ACM Ensemble, in an assortment of small size groupings. Highlights among the twelve pieces included Michael Cutting‘s I AM A STRANGE LOOP III, composed for cassette recorder (in the act of recording itself), piano and percussion. Both the soundworld and the form of the work are striking and very effective indeed, clear in its sense of direction yet with a pervasive air of spontaneity. The conclusion, entering a dark, hauntological space, was wonderful; the only danger with the piece was being distracted by the exploits of the players, especially the percussionist’s use of a bicycle. Weiwei Jin‘s Sterna Paradiaea, Returning… was arguably the most ambitious work of the day; the second act of a transmedia opera, it is concerned with a woman scarred by childhood traumas, returning home to seek to communicate with her late father’s spirit. The words, sung my mezzo Loré Lixenberg, were sadly unintelligible (no text was provided) but the fluctuations of feeling were abundantly apparent, both in the instrumental writing as well as the cumulative effect of distress on the singer’s voice. Ben Gaunt‘s Filling Rubin’s Vase was like a decreasingly civilised smack-down between two rival trios, occupying high (piano, viola, accordion) and low (bassoon, double bass, tuba) registers. The back and forth is strongly demarcated, each trio stopping as the other begins, and steadily increases in speed, becoming less like demonstrations and more like retorts. Yet they remain equally matched, the high trio more eloquent, the low trio more forceful, until a climactic derailing of the music, apparently the moment (this wasn’t clear in the performance) when the hitherto unrepresented middle register between the trios is ‘filled’. But the highlight of Next Wave for me was Paul McGuire‘s Panels, premièred by the London Sinfonietta conducted by Garry Walker. Particularly refreshing was the way McGuire accentuated the fundamental artifice in any act of composition, each panel presented separately, occupied with just a single idea. These ideas were invariably quiet and deliberate, but in their own minute way rather marvellous, two or three sounds focussing to form a fragile timbre, like small sonic swatches. Clearly a composer to keep an eye on for the future.
The evening concert in St Paul’s Hall was given by Trio Accanto, comprising saxophonist Marcus Weiss, pianist Nicolas Hodges and percussionist Christian Dierstein. Two of the works in their diverse programme either directly specified or implied simplicity. Andreas Dohmen‘s Versi Rapportati suggested it in relation to the music’s sequential underlying order, yet the result is actually pretty convoluted. It begins simply enough, simple additive phrases, but soon becomes a complex interconnected, interactive network of materials. In his 2008 work Lied, Hans Thomalla also begins simply, both in terms of material as well as modes of performance. He taps into extremes of violence and tenderness, the latter heard to lovely effect as notes were passed between the instruments, blending and evolving with occasional dissonant shimmers as their frequencies gradually aligned. Jo Kondo‘s A Shrub resisted pretty much all attempts to parse, the stubborn, directionless (almost Brownian) motion of its harmony only gaining traction towards the end, but even then seeming inconsequential. Brice Pauset‘s Adagio Dialettico sounds far larger than its 10-minute duration suggests, a lengthy, thoughtful opening piano solo leading to counterpoint so complex that at times it felt like three entirely independent parts. Pauset brought everything into focus in the closing minutes, doom-laden music playing out as though in a shell-shocked landscape. The piece that spoke most directly in every way was Toshio Hosokawa’s Vertical Time Study II, composed in 1993. That aloof title belies the emotional intensity of the music, in which the saxophone becomes the vulnerable focus of attention, sandwiched between piano and percussion; these watch the sax’s every move, responding to and anticipating each utterance, no matter how momentary, surrounding it with a resonant but pointed soundworld (using a surprisingly limited palette). A beautiful work that, due to the deliberately unshowy writing for the saxophone, emphasising restraint—or perhaps confinement—is deeply poignant.