Concerts

Cheltenham Music Festival: Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen

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Festivals come & festivals go, & Cheltenham—just like Bristol New Music a few months back—imaginatively opted to end not with a bang but on a high. It came courtesy of Norway, with the immaculate combination of Trio Mediaeval, three female singers with voices lifted straight out of the Middle Ages, & one of the most versatile trumpeters of our age, Arve Henriksen. The fruits of their collaboration, heard within the majestic space that is Cheltenham College’s Chapel, were as breathtaking as they were unexpected. For a little over an hour, they together weaved a tapestry of sound that integrated early music from throughout Europe, both sacred & secular, with avant garde & experimental elements, including electronics. What this was not—& the lengthy, articulate programme note from the Trio went to some lengths to elaborate this—was an attempt to present early music with an affected air of ‘authenticity’, but instead to embrace the unknowability of such ancient music & reinvent it at each performance. As such, it becomes something simultaneously ancient & modern: Read more

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Cheltenham Music Festival: Pärt & Tavener, A Candlelit Tribute to John Tavener

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In a rare instance of pedagogical insight, my A-level music teacher once declared, “You can’t put composers into boxes; they have a tendency to get out”. It’s true, yet to some extent we all tend to do it, in our efforts to try & make sense of the musical landscape in front of us. In the case of composers Arvo Pärt & John Tavener, they tend to get that treatment from both directions, those who have striven to market every last pound out of them as well as those who think every last note they write is nothing but the most sanctimonious drivel. Two concerts at the Cheltenham Music Festival this week featured large doses of both composers’ music. The first, at Tewkesbury Abbey, was given by the Hilliard Ensemble with the BBC Singers, the Carducci String Quartet & a collection of instrumentalists; it was followed two days later with a late evening concert at Gloucester Cathedral, featuring four string quartets: Cavaleri, Celan, Gildas & Hermes. Together, they provided a fresh opportunity for consideration & appraisal of both composers’ work.
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Cheltenham Music Festival: Fidelio Trio, The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, Tokaido Road

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Cheltenham Music Festival, Concerts, Premières | 1 Comment

Over the weekend, three concerts at the Cheltenham Music Festival, in different ways & for different reasons, caused one to reflect on the present within the context of ideas, experiences & memories from the past. The most frustrating & patience-testing were to found in the Saturday afternoon recital at the Pittville Pump Room given by the Fidelio Trio, the first half of which presented a threesome of works of the kind where composers dearly wish them to be more than the sum of their parts. Graham Fitkin‘s Lens, Michael Zev Gordon‘s Roseland & Tom Stewart‘s Flying Kites: Concentric Circles (receiving its première) took turns to mooch through material so terrified of doing anything demonstrative that they remained trapped in a limbo of blank tonality. Restraint & simplicity do not make something profound, a fact lost on these pieces, their respective blind, senile, melismatic bleatings lacking any meaningful emotional weight or poignancy. The second half brought relief: Piers Hellawell‘s Etruscan Games offered very much more focussed lyricism, the ambitious third movement in particular exploring an impressive density of counterpoint. Arlene Sierra‘s duo Avian Mirrors provided three charming snapshots of behaviour, the last of which, ‘Display’, was amusingly direct, violin & cello (serendipitously played on this occasion by men) becoming a preening, posturing pair of rivals in search of a mate, the material a wild display of testosterone-fuelled showmanship. But overshadowing them all was the concert’s final work & second première: Gavin HigginsThe Ruins of Detroit. Where the music of the first half seemed to cleave to something undefinable from a less-demanding earlier age, Higgins confronted the past with courage. Titled after & inspired by the famous photographs by Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre, the piece opened in a place of anaemic fragility (bringing to mind the start of Thomas Adès’ Arcadiana), given hauntological resonance in deep muted piano notes. Here, finally, was lyricism was a real sense of context. Negotiated with necessary sensitivity by the Fidelio Trio, Higgins’ textures were often strikingly vivid, as in a later episode where the piano became a kind of abstract water dripping on romantic memories of former glories. Appropriately, the material often decayed from melody to fragment to gesture, during which one became aware of something vestigial beneath; the conclusion said it all, a sad downward sagging, under the combination of both physical & nostalgic weight. Read more

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Cheltenham Music Festival: An Evening with Nicola Benedetti

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Once upon a time, it bore the proud title Cheltenham Festival of British Contemporary Music; for the last 50 years, it’s simply been Cheltenham Music Festival. Even though it has to a large extent yielded to the essentially conservative musical taste that pervades this part of the Cotswolds (as a Cheltonian myself, I can say that without compunction), Cheltenham has evolved into a festival where music old & new sit side by side, with many concerts featuring at least one contemporary work. There have been times, over the years, when this ancient/modern adjacency has felt forced, even apologetic. However, last night’s event, in our rather grand Town Hall, was nothing of the kind. Read more

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LCMF 2014: The Music of Bernard Parmegiani

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Festivals acquire a significant part of their character from geographical context, & London Contemporary Music Festival could hardly have picked a better location for their three-day exploration of the music of Bernard Parmegiani. Second Home, a new performance space in Shoreditch, is just off the road—& thereby infused with the smells & atmosphere—from Brick Lane, a perfect environment for Parmegiani’s music, laden with its own unique blend of spice, heat & fragrance. Parmegiani’s death late last year was more than just a profound blow to fans of acousmatic music, it was a better-late-than-never wake-up call to the realisation that the entire world of electronic music, in all its multiplicitous guises, had lost one of its most forward-looking practitioners, blessed with a combination of imaginative & technical skill largely unmatched by his contemporaries (& many of his successors). That wouldn’t sound like such a bold statement if more people were aware of the astonishments to be found in Parmegiani’s music. Hot on the heels of BEAST’s celebration last month, LCMF have provided considerable additional momentum to the urgency for an in-depth re-appreciation & appraisal of Parmegiani’s output, an appraisal that surely cannot fail to reveal him as a compositional pillar of the twentieth century, & perhaps electronic music’s most radical visionary to date. Read more

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The Start of an Era: Bristol New Music 2014

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Concerts | 3 Comments

Ordinarily, finding yourself traipsing along cold, dark, damp streets from concert to concert of cutting edge music, you’d expect the time to be late autumn & the place to be Huddersfield. Except this time it was the streets & venues of Bristol that were the focus of attention, for the inaugural Bristol New Music festival, three days packed with an impressively diverse line-up of the great & the downright remarkable. Bigging it up last week, i opined that it looked all set to become the HCMF of the south west, & there is, as it turns out, a connection, as Huddersfield supremo Graham McKenzie has provided what he described to me as “curatorial advice” in getting BNM up & running. Yet while in some ways his fingerprints could be detected all over the weekend, Bristol had an atmosphere & a vibe quite distinct to that of Huddersfield. It’s not insignificant, i think, that the word ‘new’ has been used in favour of ‘contemporary’, the latter carrying with it stronger connotations of the concert hall. BNM did have plenty of concerts taking place in familiar concert halls—the festival is, after all, a collaboration by five of Bristol’s principal venues: Arnolfini, the Colston Hall, St George’s, Spike Island & Bristol University—but more often than not, they either weren’t presented as, or didn’t feel like, familiar concert hall events. Often this was rather refreshing; sometimes, not so much.

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Gigs, gigs, gigs

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Concerts | 2 Comments

The spring concert calendar is starting to fill up with some real delights, with three forthcoming festivals being particularly mouth-watering. The most imminent is Bristol New Music, occupying a long weekend beginning this Friday. In many ways, BNM looks set to be a kind of HCMF for the south-west. Ensemble musikFabrik will be presenting Harry Partch‘s rarely-heard And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma, using recreated versions of Partch’s home-made microtonal instruments, in addition to ‘interpretations’ of Frank Zappa. There are also major new works from John Butcher, Keith Tippett, Christian Marclay & Christian Wallumrød, the Bristol Ensemble performing works by Tansy Davies & Matthew Schlomowitz, as well as concerts by clarinettist Gareth Davis, Roly Porter & the wonderful Ellen Fullman. Throw in Quatuor Bozzini with a première by Claudia Molitor & a cluster of installations, & you’ve got the makings of a seriously exciting three days of music. Full details can be found here, & there are some tasty savings to be had if you go for the day passes.

At the end of next month—serendipitously placed so soon after the recent Pioneers of Sound festival in Birmingham—is London Contemporary Music Festival‘s three-evening celebration of the undisputed big daddy of acousmatic music, Bernard Parmegiani. Each evening is jam-packed with Parmegiani goodness—including documentary films alongside the music—with diffusion coming from such luminaries as Denis Smalley, Jonty Harrison & Daniel Teruggi, & there will be live sets from Rashad Becker & Florian Hecker. Considering how exhilarating these concerts are going to be, the tickets are wonderfully inexpensive (a weekend pass will set you back a mere £20); details here.

Yet another weekend of sonic glory is coming in early May with the 2014 Tectonics Festival in Glasgow. They certainly seem to be ramping up both the diversity & the ambition, promising no fewer than nine world premières, from the likes of John Oswald, Michael Finnissy, Georg Friedrich Haas, Christian Wolff, Richard Youngs & James Clapperton. This year, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will find itself rubbing shoulders with, among others, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, vocal group EXAUDI & the Icelandic collective S.L.Á.T.U.R.. Details have only begun to emerge in the last few days; everything you need to know can be found here, & if you fancy a jaunt to Reykjavík in April (no?), then details of the Icelandic Tectonics Festival—with special focus on Alvin Lucier—can be found here.

All being well, i’ll be at all the above (possibly not Reykjavík), doing my best to navigate through & report back on the proceedings. Despite Britain’s interminably awful weather at the moment, in the concert halls at least 2014 has a decidedly sunny outlook.