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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Cheltenham Music Festival: An Evening with Nicola Benedetti

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Cheltenham Music Festival, Concerts | Leave a comment

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

Tags:

Mix Tape #30 : Prime Numbers

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Mix Tapes | Leave a comment

For the new 5:4 Mix Tape, i’m not so much exploring a theme as a conceit. Mathematics has been a recurring feature of both my compositional & recreational activities lately, so for this new mix tape i’ve compiled a selection of music the titles of which incorporate the first 21 prime numbers. It was, i should say, quite a challenge, but the result is, i think, a highly stimulating mixture of exquisite non-sequiturs & unexpected aural connections. The mix is in part characterised by the presence of line, from a host of oblique angles, including jazz (Tartar Lamb II), avant-garde (John Zorn), math rock (Three Trapped Tigers), neo-Wendy Carlos retrosynthtronics (Laibach), indeterminacy (Kenneth Kirschner), counterpoint in extremis (Conlon Nancarrow), bassline-driven electronica (Last Step), post-romantic ecclesiastical dreaminess (Marcel Dupré) & lo-fi intimacy (Kid Koala). Elsewhere texture predominates, either with a harmonic underpinning (Ochre, Celer, Nine Inch Nails (but only just), Dick Mills, V/Vm) or from a percussive/glitch/noise perspective (At Jennie Richie, Ryoji Ikeda, Paul D. Miller, Bass Communion, @c). Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New releases: Fuzzy, Craig Leon, Gareth Davis & Machinefabriek, Tim Hodgkinson

Posted on by Simon Cummings in CD reviews | Leave a comment

Have you heard of Fuzzy? No, i hadn’t either – so i was pleased to explore a new compilation of music by the enigmatically-monikered Danish composer (otherwise known as Jens Vilhelm Pedersen), recently released by DaCapo. Chimes of Memory presents five works, most of them pretty hefty & which together indicate a composer of diverse interests & decidedly playful outlook. Electronics feature prominently, yet the longest piece is his 30-minute Notre-Dame Trilogy for solo organ, completed in 2006. Fuzzy’s approach to the instrument is clearly rooted in the 20th century French organ tradition but this doesn’t so much fetter the music as provide a frame of reference for it to circle around, bash against &, occasionally, flee from. As such, although regimented within highly compartmentalised structures, Fuzzy’s irrepressible humour & sense of fun keeps the music from being all about an ongoing sense of formal interconnectedness. Put simply, intuition & whim seem to have led the way, & despite some lurches into quasi-Baroque figurations & one or two rather obvious melodic homages to Dupré & Tournemire, Fuzzy more than stamps his own mark on this most unwieldy of instruments, only occasionally using it at full blast. Electronics are clearly close to Fuzzy’s heart, though, often evocative to the point of resembling TV/movie soundtracks. In a piece like B-Movies, for harp & electronics, it’s quite deliberate, the soloist acting as a foil to the electronic scene-shifting around it. But Tre tilbageblik for bass saxophone & electronics clarifies that a dramatic sensibility—& a highly accessible one at that—is an essential part of Fuzzy’s language. Read more

Tags: , , , ,

New releases: Duologue, OY, V/Vm

Posted on by Simon Cummings in CD reviews | Leave a comment

Among the swathe of new releases currently jostling around the 5:4 jukebox, i want to start by flagging up two interesting recent releases, both serendipitous discoveries from the panning-for-gold approach to listening that is my modus operandi these days. First is Duologue, a five-piece from London whose latest EP, Memex, has initiated a host of earworms that are continuing to burrow around my subconscious at the moment. It’s an obvious place to begin, but their sound has more than a little to do with Radiohead, & not simply due to singer Tim Digby-Bell’s ululating vocals that often sound strikingly like a less defocussed Thom Yorke. Their songs share Radiohead’s interest in playing with the multiplicity of conventions associated with rock & pop. Thus, the EP’s title track melds dream pop & autotune to strange effect, crumbling into a hard-edged coda, while ‘Operator’ bumbles along at a fair old lick, with some nicely-judged harmonic shifts in a pair of softer episodes that break up the momentum—yet overall carrying a sense of ecstatic stasis, made manifest in the song’s energetic dancefloor-infused conclusion. But third track ‘Traps’ stands out way beyond either of these, evoking music from an earlier time while conjuring up a sense of balmy humidity; this is checked by the song’s regular structural shifts where major & minor tonality are superimposed (such a simple use of dissonance but still more-or-less unheard of in music of this kind) to delicious effect. Having also spent time with the group’s first album, Song & Dance (which i also warmly recommend), ‘Traps’ is definitely their strongest song to date, mature & subtle. The EP is available in physical formats (CD/vinyl) direct from the band & in digital from all the usual places, plus you can stream it below. Read more

Tags: , , , ,

Morton Feldman – The Swallows of Salangan (European Première)

Posted on by Simon Cummings in 20th Century, Premières | 1 Comment

One of the most beguiling & enigmatic premières i’ve encountered in recent times took place at Birmingham’s Frontiers Festival in March, heard for the first time outside the USA no fewer than 54 years after its composition. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for this considerable feat of procrastination; Morton Feldman‘s The Swallows of Salangan lasts a mere nine minutes, & even though the instrumentation is unusual—a chorus, plus 5 flutes (4 regular, 1 alto), 5 trumpets, 2 tubas, 2 pianos, 2 vibraphones & 7 cellos—it’s not something that would tax any established ensemble or orchestra. There must be another reason for such lackadaisicality, & one can’t help wondering whether it has more than a little to do with the nature of the music itself; i described it ‘beguiling & enigmatic’, but there’s equally a kind of aloof impenetrability that one can imagine many listeners might find not merely unappealing but downright off-putting. Yet if knees can be convinced to bend rather than jerk, there are—as always with Feldman—strange & unfamiliar rewards aplenty to be found. Read more

Tags: ,

Blasts from the Past: György Ligeti – Poème symphonique

Posted on by Simon Cummings in 20th Century, Blasts from the Past, Proms | 1 Comment

A couple of days ago marked the eighth anniversary of the death of Hungarian composer György Ligeti. To mark the event, & also begin a new occasional series on 5:4, i’d like to take a brief look back at one of the more enigmatic works of Ligeti’s career. Poème symphonique was composed in 1962, & is as much a piece of performance art as a musical composition. The performance specification is relatively straightforward: 100 mechanical metronomes are required, operated by 10 players, each metronome fully wound & set to its own tempo; all 100 are then released & allowed to tick freely until their mechanisms wind down. & that’s it, except your problems begin immediately, procuring & assembling 100 metronomes at one time & place being the most obvious. Not entirely surprisingly, the first performance triggered a fair amount of controversy, being as it was part of an official reception at the closing event of the 1963 Gaudeamus Courses and Concerts of New Music, in Hilversum, the Netherlands, an event involving local dignitaries & which was to be televised the following day. During the performance, protests broke out, & the broadcast never took place. Read more

Tags: