Proms 2015: Luke Bedford – Instability; Anna Meredith – Smatter Hauler (World Premières)

by 5:4

Stability, progression, continuity, predictability, coherence: these concepts jostle, intermingle and regularly find themselves redefined in a lot of new music. And in two recent Proms premières, they felt overtly prominent, Luke Bedford‘s Instability and Anna Meredith‘s Smatter Hauler. This prominence was partly deliberate and partly due to the extreme contrasts these pieces exhibited. In the case of Meredith’s piece, given its world première by the Aurora Orchestra (who, it should be pointed out, performed from memory—if only more orchestras would be up for this), the stated aim was associated with musical ideas being ‘stolen’ by different groups of instruments (the title being a reference to Victorian handkerchief thieves, mentioned in a Sherlock Holmes novel). An interesting aim, yet in practice the aural result was a simple gradual yielding between centres of distinct behavioural activity, like slowly shifting one’s gaze from group to group. In more imaginative hands, it might have proved effective; but here, the predictability in the work’s systemic approach combined with materials woefully in want of a cogent, compelling idea, simply led to a dull descent into increasingly blank forms of inarticulate bludgeoning. Rarely has a creative vacuum made so much empty noise.

Luke Bedford, by contrast, has sought to tap directly into unstable forms of expression, where structure and narrative are very much more elusive and fragile. That’s a challenge from the outset, one that arises from Bedford’s reflections on recent world events, working itself out in music with “a constant tension between growing and collapsing” and where “that which seems durable can vanish in an instant”. Encapsulated in the single word title Instability, Bedford’s large orchestral palette includes the Royal Albert Hall’s organ (focusing on its low pedal notes), and its role with respect to the rest of the orchestra is one that becomes questionable as the piece progresses. Earlier on, it appears to act as a point of continuity, a deep fundamental underpinning the fractured and erratic events on the surface. But as time goes on, it definitely sounds like a more ominous omnipresence, maybe even a kind of malevolent musical éminence grise (inciting ‘fundamental’-ism?) And what of these events? Bedford is certainly true to his word, marshalling his huge forces through a disconcerting litany of dislocated outcomes. Nothing lasts, even the most fascinating music (and there is much of that here) finds its focus destabilised through microtonal complications, and is before long swept brusquely aside with a blow or a shriek or a blast. As a result, all materials—small and great, brief and extended, beautiful and ugly, rough and smooth, quick and slow—are ultimately rendered equal, as likely to be proved ephemeral and/or redundant as anything else. It’s debatable, of course, whether an essay in dysfunction such as this can be a ‘success’ or whether that term is moot in the face of music determined to demonstrate its own inherently volatile shortcomings. But Bedford’s Instability is no celebration; it shines a potent (and poignant) light on how something—many things, in fact—with the potential to become a community of rich, variegated, interpenetrating objects are stymied by being entirely founded upon sand. As a metaphor for the global community it’s really rather heart-breaking. Isn’t it time we all opted for something more dependable?

The first performance of Anna Meredith’s Smatter Hauler was given by the Aurora Orchestra (sans conductor); Luke Bedford’s Instability was premièred by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Juanjo Mena.


Luke Bedford - Instability
  • Loved it! (32%, 12 Votes)
  • Liked it (32%, 12 Votes)
  • Meh (16%, 6 Votes)
  • Disliked it (8%, 3 Votes)
  • Hated it! (11%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 37

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Luke Bedford – Instability
Programme Note

Ideas in this piece are torn apart by a strange energy and reform in new, dynamic relationships. There is a constant tension between growing and collapsing. That which seems durable can vanish in an instant. The piece will include the Albert Hall organ, a detuned orchestra and possibly the first use of a cricket bat in an orchestral piece.

—Luke Bedford


Anna Meredith - Smatter Hauler
  • Loved it! (5%, 2 Votes)
  • Liked it (26%, 10 Votes)
  • Meh (26%, 10 Votes)
  • Disliked it (24%, 9 Votes)
  • Hated it! (18%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 38

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Colin Rose

kept me listening even if some of the orchestration was borrowed and exotic percussion with an un-exotic ear are a bit pointless. first entry of the organ really impressed. later it was less so. as a contrast to the Meredith the percussion was effective. as to the `Meredith, at the point where her imagination flagged and she brought the drums in, that should impress the prommers, I gave up

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