Bent Sørensen

Mix Tape #37 : Best Albums of 2016

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

i’m starting 2017 in the usual way, with a mix tape bringing together one track from each of the forty albums on my best of 2016 list. i’m sure posterity will come to regard last year as something of a trough in human history, but this mix tape does at least testify to the fact that it also contained some truly marvellous wonders. i hope you find these three hours of music a nice distillation of the aural magic that was made in 2016; links to buy each of the albums can be found in the last two days’ articles.

The mix tape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud; here’s the tracklistening in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2016 (Part 1)

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i’ve long wondered whether there’s any justification—or, indeed, any point—in making end of year lists, particularly when, as usual, there’s a pile of as yet unplayed discs staring down at me from the shelf above my desk. But, for all its provisionality, the following list will serve as a good starting point for anyone wanting an eclectic, considered, non-partisan take on the best of this year’s albums. Besides, lists are cool. So to begin with, here’s the first part of my current favourite forty albums of 2016, counting down from 40 to 21. i’ve included links for the albums, each of which is the lowest price currently available; most are streamable or can at least be previewed, so if you like what you hear do please support these fine artists.
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A telling contemporary engagement with archetypes: Bent Sørensen – Snowbells

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What leaps out immediately on Snowbells, a new collection of choral works by Bent Sørensen, and constantly throughout, is the composer’s deep, thoughtful engagement with intense emotion, particularly the themes of life, love and death. Words, and the layers of connotation and meaning encapsulated within them, are clearly not just important to Sørensen, they’re everything. The ways in which he expresses them involve a telling contemporary engagement with archetypes, sounding at once embedded in history—not just of music, but of humanity itself—yet also squarely at the forefront of present-day thought and feeling. Sørensen frequently draws on the language and demeanour of traditional music in his settings, four-square structures articulated through rich consonance, as in Sneeklokken (‘snowbell’) for solo voice and the short choral hymn Havet står så blankt og stille (‘The sea stands so still and shining’), the pair of works that book-end the disc. Some like to describe this kind of simplicity with words like ‘courageous’ or even ‘defiant’; Sørensen just sounds authentic, and it’s an authenticity that proves increasingly moving as he leads us into more obviously modern soundworlds. The Snowbells cycle (originally composed as part of an art installation) utilises the melody from its solo precedent as both a starting point and something of a refrain, now exploring each stanza separately. Familiarity permeates its every moment, though often through a filter of smears and smudges; and a pair of the movements where Sørensen ignores text and switches to soft humming is one of the album’s most exquisite episodes, as though the choir were inwardly ruminating on the music in an act of communal contemplation. 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 & 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 & suspensions, & 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 & mannerisms of religious chant. Contemporary choral music has always had to contend with its religious legacy but, far from being a hindrance, in Haut Terrain Seither seems to have liberated that legacy for her own solemnified ends. Interestingly, the piece plays havoc with one’s attempts at long-term musical memory; attempts to connect what’s happening now with music of several minutes earlier seemed increasingly impossible, perhaps due to the continual re-focus of the music’s foundation (located more in the upper voices than the lower). It would have been nice to have known a little more of Seither’s conceptual intentions; unfortunately, her programme note had been translated into the kind of obfuscatory gobbledegook that does no composers any favours.

After two short works by Sørensen—which left me wondering yet again what it is that makes Scandinavian choral music so, well, Scandinavian—came the highlight of the concert, the world première of Cecilie Ore’s Come to the Edge!, an impassioned response to the plight of Pussy Riot, the girl band who fell foul of Vladimir Putin’s increasingly regressive & timid regime. Ore’s text is a compilation of bon mots from the great & the good on the subject of freedom of speech, including words by George Washington, Catherine of Siena, Lenny Bruce & Shakespeare but focussing on a trio of selections from transcriptions of the the Pussy Riot trial. Throughout is a recurring refrain by Christopher Logue:

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!

There are times when the combination of the words’ implorings with Ore’s repetitive, emphatic word-setting slightly dents their impact, threatening to render them somewhat akin to the vacuous prattlements churned out by motivational speakers. Yet it’s impressive how, overall, Ore not only makes her point, but hits it home hard & deep. It’s less a political piece than a call to each of us both to assert our own right to freedom of speech & to protect others’ rights to the same with unassailable determination. As such, the words are not so much punches as hard, necessary slaps to the face: “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear”, “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”, “Take away the right to say ‘fuck’ and you take away the right to say ‘fuck the government'”. By focussing on simplicity—bold, earnest, declamatory—& reminding us of our own rights, Come to the Edge! makes us reflect on how inhuman it is to deprive others of them. To ignore that inhumanity diminishes us all.

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Proms 2010: Bent Sørensen – La mattina (Piano Concerto No. 2) (UK Première)

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This year’s Proms has already had a couple of concerto premières, and the third, from Bent Sørensen, is one for piano and orchestra. Inspiration for the work, La mattina (Piano Concerto No. 2) is in part connected to Mozart, and Sørensen has opted for an orchestra of like size (no clarinets or heavy brass); while the piece is stated to have five movements, the transitions between them are difficult to discern, and it comes across more simply as an episodic, single-movement. Read more

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Ensemble Exposé: Brian Ferneyhough – Incipits (UK Première) plus Davies, Xenakis, Barrett, Dillon and Sørensen

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Here’s a real treat for those who prefer their contemporary music to be at the more intellectually rewarding end of the continuum. It’s music from a concert given at the ICA in London by Ensemble Exposé (plus violist Garth Knox), under the direction of Roger Redgate, who also discusses the music being performed. The concert explored works by diverse composers, from the relatively gentle and meditative soundscapes of Paul Davies and Bent Sørensen to the more densely intricate textures of James Dillon and Richard Barrett (Barrett originally co-founded the ensemble with Redgate); Xenakis, as ever, stands apart, uniquely indescribable. It culminated in the first UK performance of Incipits by one of the greats of contemporary music, Brian Ferneyhough, a fascinating work exploring different ways to start a composition. Also included is a lengthy interview with the composer including a number of other short pieces. Read more

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