At opposite ends of the month, here are the latest examples of two regular and recurring London gigs with their roots in classical music but navigating (especially in the case of Kammer Klang) its rewarding outer margins and potential associations.
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Kammer Klang presents:
Ayan-ool Sam + 12 Ensemble + Camilla Isola + Carrier Records DJ set
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 1st November 2016, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
Headliner Ayan-ool Sam is an acclaimed xöömeizhi, or master of xöömei throat singing (the traditional droning polyphonic music of the Tuva republic in southern Siberia: solo vocalisations developed to mimic and revere both animate and inanimate sounds from nature, in line with the region’s ancient animism). He’s a former student of “xöömeizhi’s xöömeizhi” Kongar-ool, half of Alash Ensemble (with Bady-Dorzhu Ondar), and a frequent throat-singing competition winner whose garlands range from being voted this year’s People’s Xöömeizhi of the Republic of Tuva to gaining the nickname of “Golden Throat” from banjo ace and prolific world music collaborator Béla Fleck. He’ll be performing traditional xöömei as counterpart and capstone to the rest of the evening’s repertoire and explorations.
Having spent the earlier part of the year in Iceland for a HEIMA artistic residency (as well as providing the musical backbone for Max Richter’s ‘Vivaldi Recomposed’ project in Paris), orchestral duodecet 12 Ensemble are back in their London hometown for this show. Considered to be London’s foremost un-conducted string orchestra, they’ve recorded and are currently readying a debut album for next year, featuring works by William Walton, Johns Woolrich and Tavener, and the young British composer Kate Whitley (you can see the group performing her piece, ‘Autumn Songs’, below). Previously, 12 Ensemble were Ensemble in Residence for two years at the Forge in Camden, collaborating with several international artists including the tenor Nicky Spence, the pianist Mei Yi Foo and the violist Simon Rowland-Jones. On this occasion, they’ll be performing works by Alex Hills and Ruth Crawford Seeger.
Alex Hills is a London-based contemporary composer with a growing reputation for his “interesting and considerable gifts” (Tempo). His recent album of chamber compositions ‘The Music Of Making Strange‘ showcases his interest in diverse elements including spectralism, experimental chamber and punk rock. A performance of one of its pieces, ‘Knight’s Move’, is below.
The Hills piece receiving its world premiere tonight is ‘OutsideIn’, which takes inspiration from E. A. Abbott’s classic 1884 novel ‘Flatland‘ (a geometric and philosophical satire). ‘Flatland’ is a recurring source of ideas for Alex – another such piece, a choral work named after the book, can be downloaded for free here. Discussing his interest in “‘flat’ musical worlds”, Alex explains “in a two-dimensional world, a highly complex ‘inside’ would be quite invisible from the ‘outside’, yet to a hypothetical three-dimensional being staring down from above, that same inside would appear completely different.”
Regarding ‘OutsideIn’, Alex continues by describing the piece as “an attempt to think about the relationship between a soloist and an ensemble (a concerto?) in spatial terms. Rather than an ensemble acting as an accompanist to a virtuosic soloist, or a discursive, dialogue-like relationship between them, I place the soloist inside or outside the ensemble’s sound (or the ensemble in or out of the soloist’s)… ‘In’ and ‘out’ also imply boundaries and a centre, which on the one hand are made physically by the ensemble in a horizontal way, with the soloist in the centre and the other two most prominent instruments (first violin and double bass) at the edges, and also by how the musical lines move in register (vertical musical space), initially continually drawn inwards towards a centre of gravity, then at the end of the piece escaping away from that centre outwards.” Alex gives credit for further inspiration to the “virtuosity, imagination and creative freedom” of 12 Ensemble violinist and longtime Hills collaborator Aisha Orazbayev, who’ll be the featured soloist for the premiere.
A valued contemporary and fellow traveller to American modernists such as Charles Ives and Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford Seeger was a self-taught composer pioneering a specifically American brand of dissonant, meta-mystical music. Among the elements feeding into this were Ruth’s early fascination with the atonal, innovative and highly personal mysticisms of Alexander Scriabin and her own friendship with the poet Carl Sandburg (who was the almost exclusive source of the texts she set to music, although she also carried out a self-translated, twelve-tone setting of the Bhagvad Gita). Her own pugnacious, assertive modernism was further tempered by her studies with musicologist and theorist Charles Seeger, whose concept of “dissonant counterpoint” became a major element in her work and whose cultural Marxism she came to share (leading her into an increasingly missionary devotion to curating American folk music, at the expense of her own composing) and whom she married in 1931 (at a stroke, becoming the stepmother of future folk music hero Pete Seeger).
Ruth’s late return to focussing on her own compositions (after years of selflessly serving and propogating the folk songs of others) was cut short by her death from cancer at the age of fifty-two, although not before she’d delivered a final Suite for wind quintet which incorporated everything she’d learned across her musical life; from post-tonal pluralism, American serialism and Russian-inspired mysticism to her later immersion in folk. Obscured by the reputations of her male contemporaries for many years, Ruth’s work and reputation (particularly that of her 1930s work) has been being revived. 12 Ensemble will be performing her 1931 ‘Andante for string quartet’: a key Crawford Seeger piece whose carefully structured technical dissonances do not deny its growing tragic melody line. Ruth herself valued the latter to the extent that she rearranged the piece for orchestra seven years later, in the hope that the larger arrangement and a skilled conductor would bring out the embedded line to greater effect. Here’s a taste of the original quartet version:
The Fresh Klang act for November is dancer, choreographer and performance artist Camilla Isola, a Trinity Laban graduate in her early twenties at the start of what promises to be an interesting career. She’ll be premiering a brand new solo work which, like the Alex Hills piece, draws on ideas and inspirations from ‘Flatland’, exploring dimensional states and the physical dilemma of the body. One of her previous pieces is shown below:
DJs from Carrier Records (the seven-year-old New York improv, experimental and contemporary classical label who released the Alex Hill album mentioned above) will see out the remaining gaps in the evening.
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The intimate concert recital series SOLO – showcasing unusual works for solo instruments from early music through to new commissions – returns with a showcase in the vaulted crypt of St Andrew Holborn from acclaimed violinist Daniel Pioro.As player, commissioner, leader and active champion of new music, Daniel’s experience is broad and assertive. He’s a member of innovative chamber ensemble CHROMA, current leader of the Fibonacci Sequence, and the former leader of the London Contemporary Orchestra (with whom he’s played, amongst other pieces, the ‘Triple Concerto’ by Radiohead polymath Jonny Greenwood and Schnittke’s notorious ‘Concerto Grosso No. 1’). He’s worked as a soloist or ensemble player with the Orchestra of St Johns Smith Square (Mozart’s ‘Sinfonia Concertante’, John Woolrich’s ‘Capriccio’), the BBC Philharmonic (Colin Matthews’ ‘Violin Concerto’, Thomas Adès’s ‘Concentric Paths’) and the London Sinfonietta. Daniel has also forged close musical working and performance relationships with a variety of contemporary dancers and with author Michael Morpurgo.
For this concert, Daniel will celebrate and share his eclectic tastes via a set list including “everything from the intricacies of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s ‘Passacaglia for Solo Violin’ to the mind-bending repetitions of ‘Knee Play No. 2′ from Philip Glass’ extraordinary opera ‘Einstein on the Beach’.” Also on the set list is ‘Elsewhere’ by Edmund Finnis (a violin-and-reverb piece which Daniel debuted at St Johns Smith Square in June this year), works by American composers La Monte Young and Pulitzer Prize-winning Caroline Shaw (of ACME and Roomful Of Teeth) and the world première of a new piece by SOLO curator Alex Groves. There’ll also be another as-yet-unspecified baroque violin piece: this time by eighteenth-century composer-performer Nicola Matteis, an emigre virtuoso once reknowned throughout Georgian London, subsequently forgotten as a composer until the late twentieth century. (This performance will restore some of his music to its old haunts.)
No doubt there’ll be a more detailed set list emerging shortly, when tickets go on sale.