Proms 2018: pre-première questions with Suzanne Farrin and Simon Holt

Posted on by 5:4 in Interviews, Proms | Leave a comment

Tomorrow afternoon’s Prom concert at Cadogan Hall features percussionist Colin Currie with the JACK quartet. Alongside two classic works by Xenakis, they’ll be performing two world premières, Simon Holt‘s Quadriga and Suzanne Farrin‘s Hypersea. In anticipation of these first performances, here are their answers to my pre-première questions, together with the respective programme notes for their pieces. Many thanks to Suzanne and Simon for their responses. Read more

Tags: , , ,

Gráinne Mulvey/Christopher Fox – Aeolus/untouch; John Wiggins – The Listened To Sound; Lee Fraser – Cor Unvers

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

A new EP out on the Metier label brings together two works that each exist in an interesting relationship to real sounds. Irish composer Gráinne Mulvey‘s Aeolus, as the title suggests, takes its inspiration from the eponymous king of the island of Aeolia, names better known to us today via the Aeolian harp and its associated mode. Her piece is an acousmatic exploration of material rooted quite obviously in field recordings, though subjected to considerable amounts of processing and sculpting. Throughout, there’s a strong sense that the work is, if not about, then deeply informed by the idea of sound as the result of wind and air friction. The piece begins with, and from time to time returns to, the ambiance of the open air, to the soft accompaniment of birdsong, and Mulvey’s subsequent treatment of sounds transforms them into sheets of shimmer, or as if being propelled through tubes or tunnels, or even heard only by their reverberation, making identification difficult. There’s a lovely intimate tactility in this, made more fascinating by the hands-off nature of these transformed sounds, seemingly all the product of no direct physical contact. At various points there are distinct aural similarities to The Hafler Trio (particularly Intoutof), but for the most part Mulvey avoids the clichés of acousmatic music, producing something far more abstract, yet in which its points of origin remain (just about) tangible.

The other work on the disc, Christopher Fox‘s untouch, is the first of a two-part work (untouch—touch) for solo percussion. While the second part involves the soloist striking Thai gongs, untouch reconfigures their actions to the triggering of sine tones. There’s something genuinely uncanny about this abstraction (surely enhanced by seeing it in performance) both in the nature of the tone’s timbre – which doesn’t bear any meaningful similarity to gongs yet knowing about the second part continually brings them to mind – as well as their unfolding over time, begging the question of whether their continuity and the patterns that briefly emerge are arbitrary or closely-controlled. An intriguing, unconventional pair of works. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Proms 2018: Tansy Davies – What Did We See?; Jessica Wells – Rhapsody for solo oud; Joby Talbot – Ink Dark Moon (World Premières); Georg Friedrich Haas – Concerto Grosso No. 1 (UK Première)

Posted on by 5:4 in Premières, Proms | Leave a comment

Every year the nature of the works premièred at the Proms – presumably due in part to the festival’s (i.e. the BBC’s) risk-averse emphasis on popularity and familiarity over challenge and provocation – veers wildly between extremes of light- and heavyweight fare. The most recent quartet of new works, considered together, are in many respects a vivid microcosm of this qualitative inconsistency.

However, there’s a world of difference between a trifle and mere triviality. No-one would claim – least of all the composer herself – that Jessica WellsRhapsody for solo oud, given its world première at Cadogan Hall on 30 July by oud-meister Joseph Tawadros, was anything more than a simple miniature workout for the instrument. From a tentative series of arpeggios, like warm-up exercises, the music develops into its main idea: rapid, syncopated music, redolent in style of the instrument’s Middle Eastern provenance, interspersed partway through with a slower episode exploring motifs in a more improvisational way. And that’s all there was to it – but this didn’t matter in the slightest, Tawadros executing the piece with such panache that its relatively narrow scope felt not simply forgiveable but beside the point. It was what it was and nothing more: an amuse-bouche (amuse-oreille?), brief, vivacious, harmless fun. Read more

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

Proms 2018: Chaines – Knockturning; Laurie Spiegel – Only Night Thoughts; Daphne Oram – Still Point (World Premières)

Posted on by 5:4 in Premières, Proms | 2 Comments

For the most part, the Proms has always liked to pretend that electronics don’t really exist. The exception to this wilful ignorance are the occasions when electronics are made the focus of either a specific piece or an entire concert, as was the case with ‘Pioneers of Sound’, a late evening tribute to the legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop that took place at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 July. The undisputed highlight of the evening was the world première of a recently-discovered large-scale work by Daphne Oram but, alongside music by Delia Derbyshire and Suzanne Ciani, it was preceded by two smaller new works. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Mixtape #48 : Enoch Light

Posted on by 5:4 in Mixtapes | 2 Comments

Admiration’s one thing but, personally, there aren’t many musical figures whom i regard as full-on heroes. One of the few notable exceptions, however, is Enoch Light. Yesterday, 31 July, marked the 40th anniversary of Light’s death, and so as a small tribute to the great man my latest mixtape is a celebration of his work.

If his name’s not familiar to you, that’s not necessarily surprising. His earliest recorded work dates from the later 1950s, continuing until roughly the mid-1970s, and unless your musical interests encompass the very particular conjunction of big band, lounge, jazz and easy listening that flourished during this period, he’s unlikely to show up on your radar. My penchant for this music, which began when i was a child – listening to the LPs in my parents’ record collection – has steadily grown into a full-blooded passion, though for obvious reasons it’s not one that i get a chance to discuss on 5:4 very often (the one exception to date being my 26th mixtape devoted to Easy Listening, though as i was focusing particularly on the more laid back late ’60s/early ’70s sound in that mix i didn’t include any of Light’s music).

Enoch Light deserves to be remembered and celebrated not only for his music, but also for the pivotal role he played in greatly developing and improving recording standards and techniques. Having founded his own label, Command Records, in 1959, he pushed hard for the acceptance of stereo (and, in due course, quadrophonic recording), flamboyantly showing it off by using extreme separation and panning, often utilising a left/right hocketing effect that came to be known as ‘ping pong’ recording. One of his most radical decisions was to reject magnetic tape in favour of the increased clarity, stability, stereo positioning and resolution that could be obtained from recording onto 35mm film. The wonderful artwork that adorned Light’s albums combined stark minimalistic, geometric designs – some created by none other than artist Josef Albers – with bold exclamations about the quality and innovation of the recording. These beautiful sleeves occupy a unique place in the history of album artwork.

But, of course, most of all it’s the music that gets me excited. In his multiplicity of roles as conductor, arranger, producer, engineer and, in his own word, ‘originator’, Light created a legacy of music that brought together the brash exuberance of big band and jazz, the cool swagger of lounge, and the light, romantic elegance of easy listening, even managing to incorporate Moog synthesisers into his later work. By turns exhilarating and sublime, for me Enoch Light is one of the most significant and marvellous musical talents of the twentieth century.

For this mixtape i’ve selected some of my favourites from throughout his career, from the very first Command Records release, Persuasive Percussion (1959) to one of Light’s last discs, a quadrophonic album released on his equally forward-looking Project 3 label, Future Sound Shock (1973), the sleeve of which proudly proclaims: “After years of research, the producers, arrangers and artists at Project 3 have produced the recording of the future which will serve as a leader in the world of recorded sound for many years to come.”

In all, a little over 90 minutes of music by way of tribute to the wonder that was Enoch Light, 1905–1978. Here’s the tracklisting in full, followed by links to download and stream the mixtape. Read more

Tags: , , , , ,

Proms 2018: Ēriks Ešenvalds – Shadow; Eve Risser – Furakèla (World Premières); Andrew Norman – Spiral (UK Première)

Posted on by 5:4 in Premières, Proms | Leave a comment

A piece doesn’t have to be – in fact, can hardly be – all things to all people, but in the case of Shadow, by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds‘, one has to wonder if it has much if anything to offer a mature listener. This in itself is interesting precisely because of the fact that the driving force of the piece is a meditation on the implications of parental responsibility, using the words from Longfellow’s eponymous sonnet to contemplate the future and fate of one’s children. The words, as indicated by the poem’s opening line, are literally being said to oneself, so the ‘audience’ or object of these private ruminations is adult, while their subject is children. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Proms 2018: Georg Friedrich Haas – the last minutes of inhumanity; Hannah Kendall – Verdala; Isabel Mundry – Gefallen; Luca Francesconi – We Wept (World Premières)

Posted on by 5:4 in Premières, Proms | 3 Comments

The London Sinfonietta’s Prom concert at The Roundhouse, on 21 July, marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I with great works by Messiaen and Ives, plus a quartet of world premières, commissioned to explore aspects associated with the conflict and its aftermath. Composers are often at pains either to avoid extra-musical content entirely or, if present, to play down its significance and play up the subjectivity of the listening experience. One of the few exceptions to this is war music, when composers can breathe a sigh of relief in the expectation that they can lean on programmatic associations to, at least, steer audiences in the right general direction.

Listening to these four pieces, three of which included mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley, it was impossible not to acknowledge their ‘war credentials’ due to the way they were presented, surrounded by discussions with three of the composers about their respective inspirations. Yet the extent to which they spoke with authority, or even authenticity, on this subject, was by no means as obvious.

Read more

Tags: , , ,