Monday at HCMF is each year given over to a day of free concerts, invariably coming up with a huge variety of musical experiences that makes for an exhausting but (at its best) exhilarating experience. One obviously has to pan for sonic gold on days like this but, as always, it was to be found in abundance.
Zubin Kanga‘s electroacoustic piano recital included _derivations by Australian composer Ben Carey, a piece that, unlike so many in the bloated player-does-something-and-computer-does-something-back category, demarcated the nature, roles and utility of its acoustic/electronic elements perfectly, producing a simple but engrossing study in texture. In the Town Hall, five members of Explore Ensemble gave a marvellously dramatic account of Gérard Grisey‘s 1986 work Talea. The music is very much more spontaneous than Grisey’s programme note would have us believe, and its considerable shifts in energy were navigated with real brilliance; violinist David Lopez deserves a special shout-out for his fantastic playing in the work’s dazzlingly virtuosic conclusion.
Susanne Peters and Sarah Saviet weren’t done any favours by having their piccolo and violin recital located in St Thomas’ Church, a building that is as attractive inside as it is an effective amplifier for every bit of wind outside. Considering by this time of the day Storm Angus was lashing Huddersfield in a way unlike anything i’d hitherto experienced during the festival, the duo were seriously up against it. Evan Johnson‘s L’art de toucher le clavecin unfortunately didn’t stand a chance; the beautiful way Johnson seemingly fashions the music from wisps of smoke was barely audible (and i should point out i was sat barely a couple of metres away). Bruno Maderna‘s miniature Dialodia fared better, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it morsel of light lyricism, the players exercising a modicum of freedom while remaining in each other’s orbit. Rising above the elements best, though, was Timothy McCormack‘s Glass Stratum, an exhilaratingly involving piece that first compartmentalises the players with discrete behavioural characteristics—the piccolo pensive, the violin more demonstrative—before causing them to permeate, penetrate, blend and merge, ultimately becoming dual aspects of a single musical entity. There was an intense air of intimacy throughout, as though the duo were playing to/with each other in private. Yet more radically inventive music came courtesy of saxophonist John Butcher and Trio Kimmig–Studer– Zimmerlin. The skill and subtlety displayed in this concert was, frankly, amazing, with a recurring sense of “how did we get here?” due to the incredibly organic way they gently massaged and manoeuvred musical sounds and materials. Even when focusing more intently on moment-by-moment events, it was still hard to pinpoint exactly where things began to shift and evolve. Anyone with doubts concerning the veracity of improvisation in comparison to pre-composed music would have had them instantly dispelled. It was a real privilege to see four musicians in such complete control of their instruments, displaying utmost technical and compositional maturity yet with an omnipresent sense of play.
Drones were explored in several concerts, beginning with Revolution Ensemble‘s rendition of Gordon Fitzell‘s Bliss Point for saxophone and ebowed piano, comprising gentle beating undulations around various pitch centres. In the Creative Arts Building’s atrium, Andrew Crossley coaxed an immense drone from his monolin in a first performance of his own Koan #2, a text score consisting of the instruction: “Play a single note. Stop when you have heard all that it contains.” The fundamental pitch soon became supplanted by an assortment of its overtones, Crossley sometimes causing them to surge to the surface in complex clusters. It developed into a fascinatingly intricate interplay of harmonics, not exactly melodic, more a kind of ephemeral counterpoint. Crossley kept the higher harmonics implied for a long time, revealed only in brief glimpses, until towards the end they came to the fore, blanching things with a veneer of dissonance that made the string (and the entire space) judder like a sheet of metal. i heard some grumbling whingaholics protesting afterwards at the work’s duration (i didn’t check but it must have been about thirty minutes), but Crossley’s control over both the passing, dancing, overtones that he teased out of the single string and the performance’s overall dramatic unfolding was excellent, and the time he took was fully warranted. Éliane Radigue‘s latest addition to her ongoing OCCAM OCEAN series, HEXA IV for two violins, viola, cello and double bass, opted for much smaller and softer harmonic activity. Once established, a process that itself took several minutes, the drone ‘spoke’ through a continual stream of microscopic imperfections caused by the slightest of shifts in bow pressure, finger pressure, bow position and so on, like staring at the surface of an apparently motionless pond and slowly realising its surface is in fact covered in the movements of minute aquatic insects. Over the course of its half hour span, i was amazed again at the way Radigue makes her drones seemingly exist at all points on a continuum at once: it constantly sounds like the start of a process, and like every possible point throughout the process, and like the very end of the process, all at the same time. No-one does drones like Radigue, and this continual perceptual shift between beginning, middle and end, between stillness and movement (real or imagined), is one of the key qualities that makes her work so great. There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to bring to an end the day’s exhausting and exhaustive eleven hours of the most diverse music-making.