Concerts

HCMF 2013: Shorts

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There’s a curious phenomenon that seems to strike people the longer they spend at HCMF: a cross between regret and guilt at the events they’re not attending. i periodically suffer from it myself, and never more so than on their annual ‘Shorts’ day, which took place yesterday. Fifteen small- and mid-scale concerts, containing 38 pieces, in total lasting around 13 hours—it would take a certain kind of person to go to everything, and i have to confess i’m not that kind, so i experienced what we might call “the HCMF qualm”, my conscience nagging me at the music i didn’t hear and which may well have turned out to be brilliant.

However, i did get to nine concerts, and a thoroughly mixed bag they were. The first thing to say is that it’s an incredible treat to be able to hear such a diverse selection of music as this, and the performance standard throughout the day ranged from highly competent to downright dazzling. The compositional standard was rather more variable, and almost every concert had its share of flops (the worst that i experienced being Jonathan Cole’s butt-clenchingly tedious saxophone quartet Menhir, which the otherwise talented Fukio Ensemble could do nothing to save). There were plenty of moments of magic, however: the wonderfully delicious conclusion to Kerry Andrew‘s anthem O lux beata Trinitas, the disorienting division between fragrance and grind in Rose Dodd‘s electroacoustic Aandacht, some sensitively-judged interaction between organ and electronics in Huw Morgan‘s The Unseeing Eye at the Lung’s Heart and a fascinating sonic network of relationships between clarinet and string trio in Dai Fujikura‘s Halcyon. Read more

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HCMF 2013: Quatuor Diotima

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This morning saw Brian Ferneyhough back at St Paul’s Hall, his music this time being performed by the outstanding Quatuor Diotima, alongside works by Gérard Pesson, Miroslav Smka and György Ligeti.

Ligeti’s 1968 String Quartet No. 2 came last in the concert, but i mention it first because—as Ligeti’s music always tends to do—it forced a complete reappraisal of the three pieces heard before it. One very basic issue it highlighted was of the current predilection for larger-scale forms—or, conversely, composers’ (perhaps passive) reluctance to articulate works through relatively short movements. Sections and episodes don’t count in this respect; they’re an entirely different kind of demarcation and don’t induce the same sort of ‘soft reset’ brought about by the separation of movements. Let me just clarify that i don’t think one approach is better than the other; it’s just interesting to reflect that—with the obvious exception of James Dillon’s New York Triptych—everything i’ve heard both in this concert and the entire previous day consisted of substantial single spans. Read more

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HCMF 2013: Ensemble Linea + Irvine Arditti

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The final concert yesterday took place, once again, in St Paul’s Hall, featuring Ensemble Linea, conducted by Jean-Philippe Wurtz. It featured three new works, by Brian Ferneyhough, Raphaël Cendo and James Clarke.

Ferneyhough and Clarke appear at first to come from different points of origin; Ferneyhough states that he cannot begin work without a title, whereas Clarke has avoided descriptive or allusory titles for many years in order not to “interfere with or assist” the listener. However, Ferneyhough’s employment of titles is, to some extent at least, a conceit (on his own admission), providing a context of sorts but not really determining what takes place in any kind of meaningful way. Indeed, his work Liber Scintillarum (“book of sparks”), here being given its UK première, continues a strain of compositional thought that Ferneyhough terms ‘involuntary scherzi’, the material deriving from elements of unpredictability and (one assumes) spontaneity, rather than according to an intricate, pre-organised scheme. Read more

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HCMF 2013: London Sinfonietta

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Truth be told, it isn’t often i find myself lost for words. About 40 minutes ago, the London Sinfonietta finished their performance of the UK première of Georg Friedrich Haasin vain, and i’m still trying to force some coherence about the experience. A few weeks back, i procured a recording of the piece, but ultimately decided not to listen in advance, and approach the work cold. What i haven’t been able to avoid, and retrospectively i think it’s unfortunate, is some of the discussions that have been circulating in recent times about this performance. It certainly seems to have put the hype in hyperbole.

For those unfamiliar with the piece, and until tonight i was just such a person, in vain was written in response to a resurgence in the far right in Haas’ homeland of Austria. In that respect, it’s interesting to be confronted by it after having heard Cecilie Ore’s Come to the Edge a few hours before. Like Ore’s piece, i don’t think in vain can be described as a political work, rather an attempt to frame the reality of Haas’ perception of the situation. Unlike Ore’s piece, there is an overwhelming engagement with futility in in vain; there’s encouragement to be found, but of a different kind and arrived at from very different means. Read more

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HCMF 2013: BBC Singers

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Today’s second concert was back in St Paul’s Hall, featuring the BBC Singers conducted by Nicholas Kok, performing works by Charlotte Seither, Bent Sørensen and Cecilie Ore. Surprisingly, it’s an entire decade since the BBC Singers last appeared at HCMF; on the strength of this concert, one hopes they’ll be back more regularly from now on.

Seither’s Haut Terrain, receiving its UK première today, at first gave me misgivings. The piece is occupied throughout by drawn out drones, clashes and suspensions, and i suspect (confession time) it was impatience on my part that made it seem to bode poorly. But as it continued, shifting more than was initially obvious, one became aware of a music that seemed to have made portable the tropes and mannerisms of religious chant. Read more

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HCMF 2013: Red Note Ensemble

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This year’s pilgrimage to HCMF began, as it always seems to, at St Paul’s Hall, for a concert given this afternoon by Scotland’s Red Note Ensemble, directed by Garry Walker. They performed three works, something old(-ish), something new(-ish) and something entirely new. It was the entirely new piece, David Fennessy‘s Hauptstimme for viola and ensemble, that proved itself the weakest. Britons have long ascribed drab efficiency to being a key attribute of German engineering, yet it seems to be increasingly the preserve of Irish contemporary music. In Fennessy’s case, the music was dynamically neutered, harmonically static, texturally bland—a deliberate conspiracy on behalf of the ensemble in order to present to the solo viola a wall of sound with which it could contend. i’m guessing Fennessy’s intention was to obtain aggression in such an unyielding onslaught, but in practice, it didn’t so much bare fangs as dentures, becoming monotonous, even blank, in its blunt consistency. Ultimately the texture parts and dissipates, leaving the viola alone and heralding the work’s final gambit—now that the viola can be heard, “what to say?”. The answer was endless arpeggios and oscillations, perpetuated to the point that soloist Garth Knox began to resemble a folk fiddler who had entirely forgotten the tune. Read more

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Gigs, gigs, gigs

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There are some very interesting live events looming between the doorstep and the horizon. Most imminently, New Dots—an excellent initiative designed to foster collaborative composer/ensemble relationships—will be presenting the next instalment in their ongoing ‘Sounds of the New’ series at the Forge in Camden next Thursday (14th). This time it’ll be given by the London-based Octandre Ensemble, in a concert of works from a sextet of up-and-coming composers (none of whom i’ve heard of, but that no doubt says more about me than them). Details of the concert can be found here, and it’s worth highlighting they’re also running a composing competition, scoping out new works for piano and/or percussion duo and/or electronics. Details of that here; but take note the deadline is 15 November.

Beyond this—yet still less than a week away—is contemporary music’s most happily disorienting annual splurge, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. This year i’ll be spending what i anticipate to be a frankly exhausting six full days at HCMF, and will be blogging about the proceedings as much as time and energy allow (like last year, expect coverage to spread through succeeding weeks as various parts are broadcast). It seems rather fatuous to refer to ‘highlights’ where HCMF is concerned, since almost every one of its 10 days is packed to the rafters with them; personally speaking, the prospect of world and UK premières from the likes of James Dillon, Brian Ferneyhough, Monty Adkins, Rebecca Saunders, Simon Steen-Andersen, Michael Finnissy, Konrad Boehmer, Jakob Ullmann (one of my biggest heroes) and Natasha Barrett in addition to an entire day of John Zorn leaves one more than a little giddy with anticipation. HCMF Artistic Director Graham McKenzie deserves a lot more than mere kudos for bringing together such a wondrous cavalcade of new music. McKenzie’s regular tweets suggest that many, if not most, of the concerts have nearly sold out; ticket info is available here.

Next month, back at the Forge, composer Piers Tattersall and pianist Christopher Guild are going to be presenting an evening of piano music with and without electronics, including works by Jonathan Harvey, Olivier Messiaen and Pascal Dusapin alongside music by Tattersall himself and a couple of other composers. Piers tells me he’s been working with Guild for several years, so it’ll be very interesting to hear the fruits of that collaboration, and it’s always a real treat to hear Harvey’s leftfield but dreamy Tombeau de Messiaen (if you don’t know it, get on with it). Full details here.

On top of all this avant goodness, i’m especially interested and excited at the prospect of Joe Bates’ Filthy Lucre project. Founded in 2010, the purpose of the project is to present what Joe describes as “mixed-genre, mixed-medium immersive music nights”—kind of like a Robert Rich throwback but with a far more active, thought-provoking raison d’être. Their next night is planned for Saturday 11 January at the Bussey Building in Peckham; running from 9pm to 5am, the night will feature new works as well as eclectica from the delightful likes of Scott Walker, Frank Ocean, Scelsi, Radiohead, Claude Vivier, Dirty Projectors and many, many more. There are so many reasons to enjoy and support occasions like these, so let me encourage you to visit the Filthy Lucre 3 Kickstarter page, read the extensive information about what’s going to take place (the prospect of soprano Juliet Fraser performing Vivier’s Bouchara ought to be enough to ignite anyone’s enthusiasm), and then make a generous donation to help it become a reality. They’re over halfway to their target of £2,500 and there’s just 11 days to go. i, for one, would love to see this happen.