Alongside the collection of impressive soloistic new releases i recently reviewed, several new CDs of orchestral & ensemble music have emerged lately. One of the most surprising, from an aesthetic perspective, is the latest disc of Mark-Anthony Turnage‘s music released by LSO Live. The surprise is encapsulated in the titles of the two works on the CD, Speranza & From the Wreckage, both titles that are inherently optimistic in outlook. For a composer who has hitherto created countless works from mining deep seams of despair & desolation, this is quite the volte face, but as Turnage himself commented prior to Speranza‘s first performance last year, it’s all too easy self-indulgently to “wallow in misery & darkness”. That’s not to suggest Turnage’s tone in these works is chipper, exactly, but there is, particularly in parts of From the Wreckage, a spring in the music’s step of a thoroughly different kind from the grotesque forms of bounce & stumble more common in his output. Beyond this, there’s a quite deliberate move towards that most disquieting concept for the avant garde, accessibility. From the Wreckage—a work that’s by no means as blasted as its title suggests—conjures up majestic sweeping vistas, & even when it lurches into more violent territory, it’s more obstreperous than angry, smarting rather than wounded. Read more
The next piece in my Lent Series is by German composer Brigitta Muntendorf, based in Cologne. Muntendorf’s work is heavily characterised by overt theatricality; three years ago, in Salzburg, Muntendorf premièred her first music theatre work Wer zum Teufel ist Gerty (YouTube), followed last year by Endlich Opfer, more substantial but nonetheless described by the composer as a “pocket opera”. In between the two, Muntendorf composed a remarkable electroacoustic piece for voice, mono loudspeaker & ensemble of eight players titled Sweetheart, Goodbye!. Her starting point was a chapter from James Joyce’s Ulysses, not so much ‘set’ as dramatised—the score specifies that the ideal vocalist would be “an actress with vocal training” rather than a singer—a process Muntendorf likens to “playing with emotions as material”. Read more
It’s been two years since we’ve had one of these, so the new 5:4 mix tape is another of the mystery variety. Once again, no hints whatsoever about the music contained herein—although regular readers really ought to know a few of the tracks—but if anyone sufficiently bright & sparky knows all 28 of them, i’ll gladly dish out some CDs as a prize. & before you fire it up, Shazam really won’t help you very much. Enjoy!
MP3 [1:29:57 | 146Mb]
We’re back in Ireland for the next in my Lent Series devoted to music by women composers. Linda Buckley comes from the wonderfully-named Old Head of Kinsale, in County Cork. Her studies have centred around Trinity College Dublin, where she completed her PhD & now lectures. Buckley composes intrumental & electronic music, which appear to be characterised by what i can only describe as a kind of intense radiance, incorporating an overt triadic impulse & also strong tendencies toward the microtonal. Put simply, she makes the pitch domain shine in a way that both comforts & blanches, a quality that permeates her sumptuous 2011 orchestral work chiyo. Read more
Back to my Lent Series, & a rather beautiful work for voice & electronics by the Romanian composer Ana-Maria Avram. Also a pianist and conductor, Avram was born & studied in Bucharest, before moving to the Sorbonne in Paris to pursue a PhD in Musical Aesthetics. Avram directs the Hyperion Ensemble with her husband Iancu Dumitrescu, & together they promote themselves as composers of ‘hyper-spectral’ music, an extension of spectralism encompassing aspects other than just the harmonic, such as timbre & dynamics, & which is particularly interested in how sound operates within the live performance environment. She works extensively with electronics, & her compositional interests can be heard to good effect in her 1998 work Nouvel Archae for “computer-assisted” voice. Read more
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
As it’s St Patrick’s Day, who better to feature next in my Lent Series than one of the most brilliant voices in Irish contemporary music, Jennifer Walshe. In appraising Walshe’s work, it’s impressive enough to consider just the seemingly boundless intricacies of her imagination. Famously, Walshe has fabricated the existence of a group of composers under the umbrella collective Grúpat, each with their own very extensive back-stories & discrete artistic personalities. Many of Walshe’s compositions are attributed to these Grúpat figures, pseudepigrapha that demonstrate her remarkable breadth of compositional interest. But equal to this imaginative power is Walshe’s virtuosity as a vocal performer; it’s not always clear what on earth is coming out of her mouth (or indeed why), but such questions are hard to formulate when one’s grappling with her incredible dexterity & stamina, both of which have practically become the stuff of legend. Read more