Rebecca Saunders

5:4 at HCMF 2013 – Séverine Ballon

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Concerts, HCMF | Leave a comment

Today’s first concert was given by French cellist Séverine Ballon. Her recital comprised UK premières by Hèctor Parra & Mauro Lanza & a world première by Rebecca Saunders, together with a classic of the repertoire, James Dillon‘s Parjanya-Vata, composed in 1981. It was especially good to hear this again; it’s a long time since i have, & Ballon’s spectacularly fiery commitment to the work’s whirlwind climax left me wondering why i’d left it so long.

Hèctor Parra’s electroacoustic tentatives de réalité is an exercise in frenetic action. Parra’s programme notes always go to great lengths to inform as to the extra-musical points of origin, but on this occasion intention & result seemed insufficiently interconnected. In short, one never felt as involved as Ballon clearly was. The material establishes a kind of monotony that wasn’t especially helped either by the nature of the electroacoustic interaction—cause & effect a-go-go—or by its sonic fingerprint, which in many ways felt like an amalgam or catalogue of a multitude of all too familiar tried & tested (& tired) ideas.

Mauro Lanza’s la bataille de Caresme et de Charnage, on the other hand, appeared at first to be the kind of thing from which i instantly recoil, modestly absurd antics caught up in a continuous state of revolution. But it became rather engrossing to hear the work’s opening pitched utterances becoming increasingly frustrated & thwarted. As the level of implied strain intensified, the cello was reduced to a pathetic figure, grinding out increasingly flatulent parps & guttural blurts (the inclusion of a foot-powered whoopee cushion couldn’t have been more apposite). This extended episode was followed by a short, enigmatic epilogue comprising lightly tapped sounds—hard to rationalise but strangely effective.

Three times Rebecca Saunders has explored the implications arising from a complex variety of double trill (in Fletch, Ire & Still); now, she has added a fourth work, Solitude. The trill itself doesn’t appear until around two-thirds through the piece, & then only fleetingly; most of the duration is concerned with far darker & more heavyweight material, much of it founded upon the special timbres of Saunders’ regularly used de-tuned C-string. The title may invoke loneliness, but the music is certainly not inactive. Unlike some of her work, there is very little silence in Solitude, lending a desperate & somewhat manic quality to the cello’s unstoppable railing. In keeping with Saunders’ keen interest in destabilised sounds, almost nothing in the piece sounds remotely grounded or sure; however, an incredibly poignant exception to this occurs shortly before the end: a snatch of perilously-aligned double-stop unison melody. It’s a very moving moment, all the more so as the music then lapses back into the C-string’s blankest low sounds, played such that they become ridden with overtones, destroying their coherence. Séverine Ballon’s rendition of this highly wrought material was brilliant, as was Saunders’ compositional achievement, yet again following her intuitive nose & discovering shockingly new frontiers of possibility.

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5:4 at HCMF 2012 – Arditti Quartet

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Concerts, HCMF, Premières | 3 Comments

Two months may have passed, but memories of the all-too-brief weekend i spent at HCMF 2012 are alive & well; so let’s pick up where i left off.

The second day of my HCMF experience began once again in St Paul’s Hall, confronted by the understated marvel that is the Arditti Quartet. Despite the palpable excitement that pervaded the previous day’s concerts, the atmosphere in the hall on this occasion was that unique kind of highly-charged tension that only a few performers & ensembles can engender. The quartet had brought with them four works that initially seemed strikingly different from each other, but three of them ultimately proved to be united by a common line of enquiry, making the most of out of, materially speaking, very little. Read more

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5:4 at HCMF 2012 – Ensemble Resonanz

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Concerts, HCMF, Premières | 1 Comment

The first day of my weekend at HCMF ended back where it had begun, in St Paul’s Hall, for a late-night concert by Ensemble Resonanz, conducted by Peter Rundel. The concert was broadcast live on Radio 3 & comprised just three pieces, all focussing on strings, two of which featured solo cello, played by Jean-Guihen Queyras.

It began with the UK première of Rolf Wallin‘s Ground, the title of which alludes to the cyclic Baroque form of divisions, whereby a repeating bassline (the ground) is gradually overlaid with layers of faster material. That description probably suggests a certain amount of mayhem, but Ground is a decidedly pensive piece—Wallin describes it as “about finding rest”—in which the solo cello is closely surrounded by the rest of the strings, together forming a close collaboration. Furthermore, while the work has no repeating bassline (seven chords are the indiscernible equivalent here), it is highly episodic, exploring an extensive cycle of moods & atmospheres. A collaboration it may be, but it’s an intrepid one, bringing to mind a gradual descent into the earth (a connotation of the title?), passing through increasingly dark & ambiguous layers of strata. What makes the piece particularly interesting is its central melodic identity; Wallin allows tension to manifest itself in diffident, unstable music, but it never comes off the rails, preserving the sense of a pre-planned mission, rather than a mystery tour. At the work’s conclusion it enters its most cryptic episode; bordering on a stasis, both soloist & strings arrange themselves into a dense web of gently wafting notes. It begs the question: is this the ‘rest’ Wallin was striving for? or is the mission not yet completed? Read more

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Mix Tape #24 : Noir

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Mix Tapes | 1 Comment

It’s time for a new Mix Tape, & once again it reflects my current predilections & listening habits. Film noir, & particularly its musical analogues, are much on my mind at present, so the new Mix Tape reflects that, drawing on 23 examples of muted monochrome. The similarities between these pieces are often very strong, yet the range of language used is considerable. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Tor Lundvall, David Lynch & This Will Destroy You opt for heavy-laden music pulled by a sluggish pulse, throwbacks to the past from the cusp of an apocalyptic future. Tangentially related, Ulver, Demdike Stare & Asher find regularity in the artefacts that litter the surface of their hauntological materials. Gareth Davis & Frances-Marie Uitti, Aphex Twin, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky) & Cosey Fanni Tutti & Philippe Petit all offer a kind of fin de siècle melodic scrutiny, while First Human Ferro, Access to Arasaka, Angelo Badalamenti & Sleepy Town Manufacture & Unit 21 grimly obsess over chord progressions, some fragile, some aching with nostalgia. Read more

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Rebecca Saunders – still (UK Première)

Posted on by Simon Cummings in Premières | 2 Comments

Tonight saw the UK première of the latest work by Rebecca Saunders, her violin concerto still. Saunders’ music has been a growing musical passion of mine for a while; as such, i’ve already begun a longer article surveying her work, but i’ll leave that for another day, & for now focus on the concerto. It was composed for soloist Carolin Widmann, & the performance, which took place at the Barbican, was given by her with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, directed by Lionel Bringuier. These same forces (directed by Sylvain Cambreling) gave the première of the work last September at the Beethovenfest in Bonn.

The piece is in two movements, together lasting around 20 minutes. In the preamble, Widmann interestingly notes how the piece bore the provisional title rage, a title that seems in keeping for a composer who’s twice written pieces called fury. However, both of those pieces (for double bass solo & double bass plus ensemble respectively) avoid hackneyed tropes of aggression, their protagonists engaged instead in a music that is surprisingly restrained, but pent-up & seething. Read more

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