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September 2019 – upcoming opera – Alex Mills’ ‘Dear Marie Stopes’ in London (21st September); Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ on film in Brighton (24th September)

14 Sep

Alex Mills‘s forty-five minute chamber opera ‘Dear Marie Stopes’, originally performed last year as part of the Wellcome Collection’s Tête à Tête opera festival, gets another pair of performances this month at Kings Place. The original performance team (singers Alexa Mason, Jess Dandy and Feargal Mostyn-Williams, cellist Lucy Railton, viola da gamba player Liam Byrne) reunite with director Nina Brazier for a special new staging to suit the new venue.
Alex Mills' 'Dear Marie Stopes', 21st September 2019

Performed by soprano, alto and countertenor in “a mixture of solemn plainchant-style singing and delicate melismatic lines above a soundworld of drones and shifting harmonies on strings and electronics”, the opera is epistolary, built up by from thousands of open and emotional contemporary letters written to Marie Stopes following the 1918 publication of her book ‘Married Love’. The latter was one of the modern world’s first frank sex manuals and the forerunner of much of today’s open sexual culture (as well as a cornerstone of first-wave feminism with its insistence on sexual equality, the appropriate use of contraception and the understanding of female desire), and its impact was both profound and global.

 
There’s a ‘Planet Hugill’ feature on the opera here, written by Alex himself, in which he explores the context and method of the work:

“Each letter is a vivid snapshot into sex lives a century ago, full of unfiltered, raw emotion and moving personal stories, many of which resonate powerfully with life and society today. I felt that an operatic context would provide the perfect platform to explore and unpack the inherent drama and high emotion in the letters, and bring their fascinating content to a wider audience. There is no conventional, linear narrative. Instead, the libretto, by Jennifer Thorp, pieces together vignettes and extracts to form a tight dramatic structure, held together by the central figure of Marie Stopes herself.

“The three singers have their work cut out for them – taking on multiple roles and characters, sometimes within the same section, to show the very wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes to sex and birth control in 1918. The intention was to draw out the emotional content of the letters while being sensitive to the original context in which they were written – very private missives in a time of need.”

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For those who missed seeing Keith Burstein’s opera ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ while it was being performed at last year’s Grimeborn, there’s an opportunity to catch it again. Admittedly this will be on film – one particular evening of the run was recorded by Jason Harris of Piñata Studios, the footage has now been edited and subtitled, and the results are premiering at Brighton’s Verdict Jazz Club later this month, preceded by a short introductory talk by Keith himself.

Here’s what I wrote about ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ when previewing it last summer:

Fulham Opera's 'The Prometheus Revolution' - 7th/8th/10th August 2018Fulham Opera are premiering ‘The Prometheus Revolution’, the first new opera by composer/librettist Keith Burstein since his anti-War On Terror work ‘Manifest Destiny’. The latter blew up a pile of controversy at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe with its suicide bomb-vest scenes, its agit-prop metaphysics and its pungent criticism of Western motives, and eventually led to a wrangle over free speech and alleged promotion of terrorism at the Royal Courts of Justice.

‘…Prometheus…’ looks set to extend at least some of the ideas behind ‘Manifest Destiny’. Like the earlier piece, it’s a politically-heated metaphysical examination of where we are as a society, and what we might do about it, It’s set in an alternative present which closely mirrors our own, with democracy decaying into corrupt war-mongering authoritarianism and economic meltdown, with a peace movement “standing between tyranny and chaos, (although) they too are cleft by internal struggles.” Inspired by the 2012 Occupy Movement’s “99% versus the 1%” ideology, it’s billed as a “dark parable” of “star-crossed lovers, rebellion and revolution against the backdrop of a corrupt political class… shot through with pathos and ironic humour.” As with ‘Manifest Destiny’, you can also expect more of the vigorously tonal Burstein approach to music and tunes, with a post-Britten-and-Berg score additionally laced with the sounds of vaudeville, Broadway musicals and pop ballads.”

Arranged for solo piano (played by Ben Woodward) and presented in a minimal-stage manner by director Sophie Gilpin in one of the Arcola Theatre’s stripped-brick-box performance rooms, ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ was sung by Alex Haigh, Caroline Carragher, Robert Garland, Olivia Barry, Gerard Delrez,James Schouten, Christie Cook, Lucie Louvrier, Nick Dwyer, Luci Briginshaw, Ian Wilson-Pope, and James Bowers. At the time, the reception and reviews were mixed: Burstein’s always been a polarising artist, and you either buy into his passion for vividly revived tonalism, torrents of romantic futurist melody and illuminated left-wing metaphysics, or you don’t. Personally, I remember it as being an interesting fable: a contemporary political fantasy with a dash of both verismo and Verdi domestic drama crossing through.

Here’s the promotional video for the original production.


 
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Dates:

Alex Mills: ‘Dear Marie Stopes’
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Saturday 21st September 2019, 4.00pm & 7.30pm
– information here and here

Keith Burstein: ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ (film premiere)
The Verdict Jazz Club, 159 Edward Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 0JB, England
Tuesday 24th September 2019, 7.00pm
– information via email request to Anna Beketov @ Damson PR
 

June 2019 – assorted upcoming London gigs – Block4 and Lynda Beckett’s multi-media recorder concert (15th), Arch Garrison, Charles Bullen and Kavus Torabi play Clapham Library (15th); cellotronics-and-percussion improv with BirdWorld at Wigmore Hall (18th June); North Sea Radio Orchestra, John Greaves, Annie Barbazza and others reinvent Robert Wyatt in ‘Folly Bololey’ (27th)

11 Jun

Classical/experimental recorder quartet Block4 (featuring Emily Bannister, Lucy Carr, Katie Cowling and Rosie Land on a variety of instruments from bass to sopranino) are offering a mingled kids’ workshop and multi-media live concert – ‘The Art Of Sound’ – this coming Saturday down in Lewisham. Exploring links between music and visual art, the ‘Stargazing’ concert is a live collaboration with line artist Lynda Beckett, who’ll be creating spontaneous artwork (pursuing “sensual, the rhythmic and the non-binary” via line art in which “the glitch and the eternal return are welcome”) during the course of the show.

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: 'The Art of Sound' - 15th June 2019

While I’ve not got much info in terms of a programme, the music will be in keeping with Block4’s wide-spanning approach to genre, which in the past has mixed Renaissance and Baroque music with reinterpretations of Jimi Hendrix, “contemporary consort” ideas involving electronics, and more. It will include a new piece by Andrew Crossley, a composer whose inspirations include Zen Buddhism and a sheaf of hybrid forms of criticism (so expect something with plenty of silences and digressions, perhaps). Here’s an earlier electro-acoustic minimalist piece which Andrew wrote for sub-great bass recorder (travelling from borderline-subliminal low register to a resonant temple-horn call and back again), along with a couple of examples from Block4’s existing repertoire.

 

The workshop, taking place in the morning, ties in with the concept – allowing kids (from six-year-olds upwards) to “explore music performance, composition, drawing, and (to) creat(e) their own unique work of art to take home.” Best to book early for that one.

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Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi, 15th June 2019The timing of the Block4 events also gives you time to slip across London (from the south-east to the south-west) on the same day, in order to take in one of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival gigs taking place in the atrium at Clapham Library. Back in April, they hosted the Peter Blegvad Quintet. This month, even as Craig Fortnam limbers up his North Sea Radio Orchestra for an upcoming Café Oto show, he and fellow NSRO-er James Larcombe slip on their guise as the Arch Garrison duo and head down Clapham-wards.

Arch Garrison take the implied baroque in folk baroque and draw it fully out into the light. Craig’s amplified gut-strung fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing has as much Spanish classical to it as it does bullish John Martyn counterpoint (though he’ll more readily cite African-Arabic inspirations like Ali Farka Touré), while James’ dextrous post-classical work on vintage-sounding monosynths makes joyously assured connections between chapel organ studies, progtronic flourishes and psychedelic sound webbings. The Garrison have sometimes been compared to Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Drake, and draw from Tim Smith’s eccentric, unlikely folk wellspring, but they don’t sound like anyone nearly as much as they sound like themselves. The songs, sung in Craig’s soft demotic Wyatt-esque sprawl, start with a lone walking man and travel downwards into conceptual strata of history, geography, familial relationships, art and ageing.



 
There will also be sidestepping solo support sets from Gong/Knifeworld expostulator Kavus Torabi (continuing to mine the unsettled psychedelic angst of his dark-sun guitar-and-harmonium solo EP ‘Solar Divination’ and a related upcoming solo album) and from Charles Bullen, one of the triumvirate behind Camberwell proto-punk experimentalists This Heat during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (and, more recently, behind the band’s recently-retired latter-day reimagining This Is Not This Heat). I’ve no idea whether Charles will be singing; whether he’ll be playing along with guitar, viola, a mess of programmed samples or his clarinet: whether and how the music will connect to This Heat’s experimental jazz-prog collage polemics, the pocket-dub work he explored with Lifetones or the bright and mellow synth-rock sparkle of his Circadian Rhythms project; or even whether he’s going to be starting anew with a completely fresh slate. Anticipate anything.

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North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019

Returning to Craig Fortnam – and indeed, to Robert Wyatt – his North Sea Radio Orchestra concert is on 27th June. It’s the live British debut of the NSRO’s ‘Folly Bololey‘ project, which also incorporates Henry Cow bassist/art-rock chansonnier John Greaves and rising prog/art-ensemble singer Annie Barbazza.

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019‘Folly Bololey’ has been around in one shape or form for half a decade, being played at arts concert and Rock In Opposition events in continental Europe, but has only just now crossed the Channel to be performed in Britain. Gently picking up, re-arranging and re-performing various Wyatt works (centring on a complete performance of the ‘Rock Bottom’ song cycle), it sets Wyatt’s flowing, unspooling songs of love, grief, plaintive nonsense and recovery against the pastoral raincloud tug of NSRO’s alt.crossover sensibilities. The results are an interesting blending of Wyatt’s mouth-music jazzing and his deliquescing, playfully vulnerable search for meaningfulness against NSRO’s own softly-yielding Anglo-pastoral formalism (which in turn echoes the open-to-all concert music of another Fortnam forebear, David Bedford).

With Craig acting as master of ceremonies on guitar and Farfisa organ, rounding out the ensemble are NSRO reed and cello regulars Nicky Baigent, Luke Crookes and Harry Escott plus Greaves band member Laurent Valero on strings and recorders and William D. Drake (the former Cardiacs keyboard wizard who turned into a touchingly surreal, avuncular chamber-folkster). Handling the tuned and untuned percussion are Gong drummer Cheb Nettles and vibraphonist Tommaso Franguelli (from Piacenza percussion group Tempus Fugit).


 
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On Tuesday 18th, cello/electronics/percussion duo BirdWorld are playing an informal set at the Wigmore Hall’s Bechstein Bar. (When I last touched on them here, they were playing the Frome Festival three years back – too long ago.)

BirdWorld, 18th June 2019

Migrating between twin home-bases of London and Oslo, BirdWorld are cellist/effects twiddler Gregor Riddell and drummer/percussionist Adam Teixeira. For a while, guitarist Alex Stuart was also in the picture; but it’s always been about the core duo, who met in Canada, discussed electronic/acoustic blendings and built from there. Aspects of improvisation, jazz, field recordings and cross-cultural music – plus experimental rock and classical and a battery of kalimbas – wing lightly in and out of their work, which has included film scoring and radio work; and (as of this year) their five-year-delayed debut EP ‘TING TAR TID’, released (in keeping with BirdWorld’s folkloric leanings) on the vernal equinox.


 
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All dates:

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: ‘The Art Of Sound’
St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, 346 Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London, SE13 6LE, England
Saturday 15th June 2019 – children’s workshop 10.00am, concert 3.00pm
(concert free for under-18 year olds) – information here

Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi
Clapham Library, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 15th June 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

BirdWorld
Bechstein Bar @ Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England
Tuesday 18th June 2019, 6.15pm
– information here and here

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza play ‘Folly Bololey’ (Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Thursday 27th June 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

June 2019 – upcoming London opera – National Opera Studio’s ‘Voices Of Now’ (7th, 8th) and the premiere of Robert Hugill’s ‘The Gardeners’ at Conway Hall (18th)

31 May

Passing on some opera news…

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This coming Friday, National Opera Studio brings their ‘Voices Of Now’ to London for a couple of days (playing the old gay Bloomsbury theatre haunt The Drill Hall – now RADA Studios – which certainly saw plenty of operatics of one kind or another during its previous life).

'Voices of Now: Scenes From Contemporary Operas' - 7th & 8th June 2019

“Directed by award-winning director Michael McCarthy (Artistic Director, Music Theatre Wales), ‘Voices Of Now’ celebrates scenes from contemporary opera written in English. This programme will showcase 21st century operas, with scenes from works by John Adams, Judith Weir, George Benjamin, Philip Glass, Emma Ruth-Richards, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Stuart MacRae and Unsuk Chin, and hark back to one of contemporary opera’s pioneers with an extract from Michael Tippett’s King Priam. Featuring our four talented Young Artist répétiteurs at the piano, the scenes will be conducted by NOS Head of Music, Mark Shanahan.

The opera excerpts are from:

“On Friday 7th June at 6.15pm there will be a pre-performance talk with Michael McCarthy as well as some of the composers and publishers behind the contemporary opera scenes. Discussing both the creative process behind the works and how this is translated onto the stage, this exclusive talk will be hosted by NOS Director of Artist Development, David Sulkin. Tickets for the talk cost £5.00; however they are free to members of the Friends of the National Opera Studio.”

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On 18th June, composer Robert Hugill presents the world premiere of his new opera ‘The Gardeners’ at London’s humanist/ethical fortress Conway Hall.

Robert Hugill: 'The Gardeners' - 18th June 2019

“Following the stunning productions of ‘The Genesis Of Frankenstein’, ‘When A Man Knows’ and ‘Garrett’, one of the UK’s most distinguished composers, Robert Hugill, presents the world premiere of his latest chamber opera ‘The Gardeners’. With a libretto by Otradek Records and ‘Notes Upon Notes‘ editor Joanna Wyld, this enduring modern opera sees tensions rise between three generations of the same family who look after war graves in a politically divided region.

“Inspired by a newspaper article about a family of gardeners tending war graves in the Middle East, the opera is set within a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, amongst the family which maintains the gardens in the cemetery, and it deals with issues of remembrance, tolerance, and brotherhood. The graves belong to the Dead, who once invaded the land in which they lie. Tensions rise between three generations of the same family who look after war graves in a politically divided region. The Dead communicate with the Old Gardener, to the bewilderment of his family, who cannot hear them. The Gardener works with his father, trying to keep the peace, whereas his son, the Angry Young Man, resents the Dead and is on the cusp of being radicalised. His Mother and Grandmother try to resolve the divisions within their family.

“After the Gardener discovers that the graves have been vandalised, and suspects his son may be the culprit, the conflict between the Angry Young Man and his family escalates, culminating in the Old Gardener collapsing and dying. Filled with remorse, the Angry Young Man reflects on his actions. As he does so, he starts to hear the voices which had spoken to his grandfather: the voices of the Dead.”

“The way the family maintain the gardens in the cemetery against difficult odds, and with graves of a variety of different religions, provides a metaphor for the current tensions in the Middle East; and in Joanna’s libretto the garden provides a further metaphor for the easing of tension and the creation of harmony and brotherhood.”

“This concert performance features Julian Debreuil (Wingate Foundation Award winner), Peter Brathwaite (English National Opera 2017 / 2018), Magid El-Bushra (Orchestre de Radio France), Flora Mcintosh (Anne Zeigler Award winner) and Georgia Mae Bishop (Opera Holland Park young artist 2019); with an instrumental quintet ensemble (harpist Oliver Wass, violinist Charlotte Amherst, viola player May Dolan, cellist Sophie Haynes and clarinettist Anthony Friend) conducted by the Artistic Director of the London English Song Festival William Vann.”

‘The Gardeners’ has a dedicated website and a Facebook page with further background and developing news. Joanna Wyld has also written in ‘The Cross-Eyed Pianist‘ about the construction of the libretto. Here’s a clip from Robert’s previous opera ‘When A Man Knows’.

 
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Dates:

National Opera Studio presents:
‘Voices of Now: Scenes From Contemporary Operas’
RADA Studios, 16 Chenies Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 7EX, England
Friday 7th June 2019, 7.30pm / Saturday 8th June 2019, 3.00pm & 7.30pm
Pre-concert talk: Friday 7th June 2019, 6.15pm

– information here and here

Conway Hall Sunday Concerts presents:
‘The Gardeners’
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1R 4RL, England
Tuesday 18th June 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

June 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs – Echo Ensemble’s Love Classical contribution (4th) and ‘The Ancient Tomorrow’ (27th); ‘Mixture: New Music For Organ and Electronics’ at Union Chapel (10th); Marsyas Trio’s ‘Trios For Our Time’ (12th, with workshop on the 2nd)

29 May

Two June concerts from the Echo Ensemble chamber orchestra showcase new works by their director and conductor Noah Max. Barely twenty, Noah’s already a frighteningly accomplished artistic polymath – a conductor, cellist, chorister, New Music advocate and musical entrepreneur who’s also nurturing successful side careers as a painter, poet and filmmaker. As a composer, he’s already lined up a stack of diverse works, performed not only by Echo but by the Ebor Singers, the Marryat Players, the Barbican Piano Trio and Duo d’Oro. (All this, and still no website…) As for the ensemble, they’re a mere couple of years old, but are already making significant ripples in the British classical community and being hailed for their power and imaginative focus.

Echo Ensemble @ 'Love Classical', 4th June 2019

The first of the two concerts is part of the Albert Hall’s ‘Love Classical’ season, tucked away in the Elgar Room: it also features Mozart’s ‘Symphony No. 29’ and Taneyev’s ‘Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 30’. The Max piece is the world premiere of his complete suite ‘Immolation Dances’ which, as he recalls, “began life a year ago as a ballet which wound together tales such as Icarus and the myth of the Phoenix. The writing process has burned away all but the fiery core of the piece, a white-hot suite of warped dances which explore my fascination with heat and light, resonance, pain and healing. Although its narrative has become more abstract, I hope the piece remains a blazing, emotionally charged inferno, all the more intense for its brevity.”

Echo Ensemble: 'The Ancient Tomorrow', 27th June 2019

The second – ‘The Ancient Tomorrow’, at St Gabriels Pimlico – presents “a programme spanning from Edvard Grieg’s vision of 1600s Norway to the world premiere of a major new work for string orchestra… via neglected French composer André Jolivet’s neoclassical firecracker of a flute concerto.” The Grieg work is ‘Aus Holbergs Zeit’; the Jolivet is his “spontaneous and symmetrical” 1949 ‘Concerto for Flute and Strings’ which they’ll be playing with guest flautist Frederico Paixão (interesting, too, to note the polymathic interests Jolivet and Max share). The new string orchestra piece (another world premiere) is the Max one, ‘The Chakras’, for which information is thin on the ground: check later for the Echo Ensemble’s Facebook page, which seems to be Noah’s main outlet for comments and updates.

A couple of Noah Max’s previous orchestral pieces are on show below…



 
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Marsyas Trio (featuring flautist Helen Vidovich, cellist Val Welbanks and, since late 2017, pianist Olga Stezhko) continue their mission to encourage and perform new repertoire with a concert at the 1901 Club entirely dedicated to premieres, courtesy of various members of the London Composers’ Forum.

Marsyas Trio: 'Trios For Our TImes', 12th June 2019

On the programme are Peter Openshaw ‘Caput redivivum’; ‘Drift’ (by former Fin De Siecle frontwoman and current soundtrack composer Isa Suarez); Illumination Chamber Choir leader Miriam Mackie‘s ‘Same Place’; Alan Taylor‘s ‘Muted & Changing Voices’; Michael Regan‘s ‘In The Shadows’, Alan Hilton‘s ‘Trio’ and Elizabeth Sharma‘s ‘Songs Of The Night’. I’ve not been able to find much in the way of summaries for any of these, but you might be able to find out a little more if you wangled your way into the pre-concert LCF workshop at Goldsmith’s on 2nd June (free to students and LCF members).

In addition, below are some previous examples of work from most of the composers involved, including what sounds like a synthesized demo of the Hilton piece (plus a little of the Marsyas Trio in action a few years ago, with soprano Jessica Summers at the much-missed Forge in Camden).


 
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'Mixture: New Music For Organ and Electronics', 10th June 2019On the subject of Goldsmiths, several of their postgraduate music students (alongside others from Guildhall School of Music & Drama and from the University of Cambridge) will be debuting compositions at a Union Chapel concert on the 10th.

‘Mixture: New Music For Organ and Electronics’ is the capstone concert in a six-month series in which current compositional and performance technology is being brought into play with the chapel’s reknowned Henry Willis pipe organ. For such a grand undertaking, this is a surprisingly undersung event (which I’m going to latch onto as my excuse for not having followed the whole series). The Goldsmiths contingent are Robert Murray Jamieson, Maeve Moayedi, Elisabeth Salverda, Rachel Gibson and Elizabeth Hill-Laurence: that leaves one place apiece for Cambridge and Guildhall, but it’s not clear who those last two composers are. Still, at a ticket price of only £3.50, it’s probably worth dropping by on spec just to find out.

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Dates:

London Composers’ Forum Workshop with Marsyas Trio for ‘Trios For Our Time’
Room 163, Richard Hoggart Building @ Goldsmiths (University of London), Lewisham Way, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW, England
Sunday 2nd June 2019, 12.30pm and 4.30pm
– information here and here

Echo Ensemble @ Love Classical
Elgar Room @ Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, Knightsbridge, London, SW7 2AP, England
Tuesday 4th June 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

‘Mixture: New Music For Organ and Electronics’
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Monday 10th June 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

London Composers Forum presents:
Marsyas Trio: ‘Trios For Our Time’
1901 Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE, England
Wednesday 12th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here and here

Echo Ensemble: ‘The Ancient Tomorrow’
St Gabriel’s Pimlico, Warwick Square, Pimlico, London, SW1V 2AD, England
Thursday 27th June 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

May 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs – Jon Paul Mayse’s ‘Faith & Memory: New Works For Strings’ (31st May)

25 May

Jon Paul Mayse: 'Faith & Memory: New Works For Strings', 31st May 2019On 31st May, there’ll be an evening of works for strings by London-based American composer Jon Paul Mayse. As the concert title (‘Faith & Memory: New Works For Strings’) suggests, it’ll be an interesting mixture of religiosity and scientific enquiry: an unusual juxtaposition, and rare in its determination to pay equal concern to both.

Producing music that’s “spacious, colorful, and often quiet, almost to the point of silence”, Jon’s already known for his interest in “memory, gesture, perception, and the expressive potentials of virtuosity” and for his interest in the crossing of disciplines, forms and modes of working. Back home in Philadelphia, he’s been an advocate and champion of various electro-acoustic and multi-media musical formats across concert halls and classical dance space as well as within opera, partly through founding the city’s Live/Wire Opera Company and its related Ensemble; he’s also written a piece for bassoon in which the player triggers and controls the stage lighting, and is looking into developing an ambisonic choral piece. But even when the technology’s not present and he’s working with traditional and purely acoustic orchestral instruments, the preoccupation with sophisticated psychological processes continues, Some of his pieces, such as the recorder trio ‘Assembly’, plays around with compositional deconstruction and reconstruction like a Lego champion; and as his website notes, he’s investigated “style and imitation in ‘Tapas’ (for cello and bassoon), color and sound in ‘Color Studies’ (for cello and percussion quartet), and faith in ‘Seven Last Words’ (for solo cello), ‘Psalm for Cello and Choir’, and his ‘String Trio’…”

Entirely acoustic, this particular London concert seems to be paring down Jon’s concerns to a manageable few, beginning with two of the aforementioned “works of matters of faith”. In the tradition of Bach and James Macmillan (in terms of cultural continuity, if not necessarily musical approach), the cello solo ‘Seven Last Words’ explores the final utterances of Christ at Golgotha. “The first movement reflect upon Christ’s physical suffering, the punishments and beatings laid upon him. The middle movement is a duet between a normal, minor elegy and a calming countermelody entirely in harmonics, depicting Mary at the foot of the cross being consoled by Christ. The final movement reflects upon the spiritual isolation Christ would have felt under the weight of the world’s sins, shown in violent cries and outbursts answered by only silence.”

Jon also explains that the preceding ‘String Trio’ is “a study of biblical Light and Darkness. Darkness is portrayed by scratch tones, extreme dynamics, and fast, nervous figurations, while Light is portrayed by harmonics, longer tones, and a rising melody, which is taken from my setting of the end of the Easter Exultet:(“May this flame, be found still burning, By the morning star, the one morning star…”). At the outset, the Light theme emerges out of scratch tones, which then crescendo into a series of alternations between hammered and harmonic chords. After a number of episodes, the piece ends with a meditation on the baptism of Christ, in which all the instruments play short harmonic notes and the Light theme appears in the viola (the Son), then cello (the Father), the violin (Descending Dove).”.

Here’s a previous performance:


 
The final piece – a premiere – is Jon’s ‘String Quartet’, which “explores memory, sonically and personally” and draws on both Beethoven and post-Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard for inspiration. It’s a further extrapolation of Jon’s earlier piece ”Three Errors in Recall’, which he notes “maps memory recall errors to bow technique (I know, sexy).” Here’s what the source piece sounded like…

 
Jon Paul Mayse: ‘Faith & Memory: New Works For Strings’
Rudolf Steiner House, 35 Park Road, Marylebone, London, NW1 6XT, England
Friday 31st May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

May/July 2019 – upcoming classical/experimental gigs – multimedia string quartet work – Solem Quartet in London, Liverpool and Manchester (2nd, 9th, 10th May); Kronos Quartet & Trevor Paglen’s ‘Sight Machine’ in London (11th July)

29 Apr

Some quick signal-boosing for those of you who might enjoy augmented string quartet music…

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Solem Quartet, 2nd/9th/10th May 2019“In the first of a brand new series, Solem Lates, the Solem Quartet present ‘batózeyal’: a night of music for string quartet and electronics.

“Excitingly, ‘batózeyal’ will feature two specially commissioned premieres, from Larry Goves and Aaron Parker, alongside Anna Meredith‘s ‘Tuggemo’ (a dance-inspired romp mixing the sounds of live string quartet with synth electronics), and other exhilarating recent works from Jonathan Dove (‘Quite Fast’ from his 2001 string quartet ‘Out of Time’) and Paul Zaba (‘Sidechains’, a dizzying musical incarnation of the electronic effect of the same name).

“In the context of this contemporary music, we will also be performing Bartók’s 3rd Quartet which sounds as fresh and visceral as it did at its conception, almost one hundred years ago.

“The title of the night shares its name with the piece by Aaron Parker, which responds to and interacts with the Bartók Quartet (while incorporating electronics and film). So come and join us for sparkling new music and a masterpiece of twentieth-century chamber music!”

There were no initial details for what the Goves piece was called, but talk on Twitter has confirmed that it’s a nine-minute composition called ‘Two-Way Mirror’. Meanwhile, here’s the Solem playing the Bartók (along with a Paul Zaba Soundcloud clip of ‘Sidechains’ and a performance of ‘Quite Fast’ by the Eurasia Quartet).


 
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“Artist Trevor Paglen and the ever-inventive Kronos Quartet present Sight Machine, a multimedia performance putting a string quartet under the gaze of machine-vision and artificial intelligence.

Kronos Quartet/Trevor Paglen: ' Sight Machine', 11th July 2019We live in a data-driven world, but is it really possible to quantify human emotion? This concert puts that question under surveillance. While the Kronos Quartet perform works by Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich, Egyptian electronic musician Islam Chipsy and others, the musicians are monitored by cameras feeding into a suite of artificial intelligence algorithms. The software turns this abstracted information back into images, which are then projected onto the screen behind the performers, showing us how machines and their algorithms perceive what we are seeing.

“Utilising algorithms ranging from consumer-grade facial detection to advanced surveillance systems and even guided missiles, ‘Sight Machine’ is a fascinating and unsettling illustration of the discrepancy between what we experience as human beings and what machines ‘see’.

“This is part of Life Rewired – the 2019 Barbican season exploring what it means to be human when technology is changing everything.”

 

This work was originally performed in New York back in 2017 – read some more about that here. No extra details on the setlist yet…

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Dates:

Solem Quartet: ‘batózeyal’

  • The CLF Art Café, Block A, Bussey Building, 133 Copeland Road, Peckham, London, SE15 3SN, England – Thursday 2nd May 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • The Invisible Wind Factory, 25 Carlton Street, Liverpool, L3 7BX, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England – Friday 10th May 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here


Serious presents:
Kronos Quartet & Trevor Paglen: ‘Sight Machine’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Thursday 11th July 2019, 8.30pm
– information here and here

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Also, I guess it’s worth mentioning that the Markus Reuter string quartet record I previewed back in February is now out. Here are some promotional clips for those of you who missed out on the previous post…




 

May 2019 – upcoming gigs – theatrical rock and weirdtronica from Major Parkinson, Alwanzatar and Army Of Moths in London (2nd, 3rd); simmering avant-rock angles from Thumpermonkey and A Formal Horse in Southampton (2nd); eclectic music From My Octopus Mind and Daniel Inzani in Bristol plus a dance video premiere by Bethany Stenning (2nd)

23 Apr

Major Parkinson + Alwantazar + Army Of Moths, 2nd & 3rd May 2019The last time that Bergen rock dramatists Major Parkinson came to England, they amazed and were amazed – bringing an evening of dark-tinged theatrical music, and leaving grateful and a little thunderstruck at the attention they’d received and the energy and loyalty they’d stirred up. It had something to do with the fact that they’d unexpectedly tapped into the interests of Cardiacs fans, known for their family loyalty and their generally un-English zest for manic expressiveness and musical complexity. A perfect match, really. Fronted by Jon Ivar Kollbotn and massing up an armoury of violins, guitars and keyboards, Major Parkinson are a Jägerbomb of a band. Rich, heady, a little reminiscent of Cardiacs’ turbulent complexity, but with plenty of other things in the brew – a dash of Nick Cave’s Gothic cabaret, the huge dark orchestral-pop airs of Cousteau, the shipwreck timbers of black metal, the ambitions that come from staring at a shelfload of out-there music while still pawing over your childhood copy of ‘Sgt. Pepper’.

They’re back in England at the beginning of next month to play a London double – an official show at Tufnell Park’s Dome, plus (for Dome ticket holders) a pre-Dome warm-up at a secret location. No idea where the latter is. They’re selling it as some kind of thieves’ kitchen or secret cupboard, in which you’ll come as an audience member but helplessly spill onto the stage, presumably becoming one of the characters in a Parkinson tale. It’s all a mystery. Pick up a Dome ticket and be prepared to make an early weekend of it.



 
At the Dome show, there’s support from Alwanzatar, a solo “extraterrestrial world music” project from Krizla (who plays with Norwegian prog-psych-folkers Tusmørke). Founded around electronics, flute, synth gloop and incantations, it sounds a little like a reanimated Popul Vuh, raised up by dark rites and dragged into the world of bedroom electronica. Also on hand are Army Of Moths: usually a similarly theatre’lectrical racket to Major Parkinson themselves, playing an unhinged kind of power pop (great brick arches of song with a definite Cardiacs-y clamberosity involved, plus vocals scurrying around them like woozy wayward ivy or clamouring like a young Bowie). This time they’re playing in acoustic format.




 
* * * * * * * *

It’s going to be a busy Thursday for this kind of tuneful, extravagant fringe rock. Also on the 2nd – balefully powerful London avant-prog band Thumpermonkey up sticks for an evening and roll their dark laughter, their constantly shapeshifting compositions and their baffling, brainiac-surreal perspective out of London, taking the road down to Southampton to play for the determined diehards at Solent Area Prog.

Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse, 2nd May 2019Like Major Parkinson, Thumpermonkey are a heady brew of ideas and drama. In their way, they’re one of Britain’s most ambitious rock bands, deftly striding and shifting between different musical kernels from prog, dark pop or experimental metal to a kind of science-fiction cabaret, languidly licking up and stirring in any intriguing nugget or story fragment they birth or encounter. Unpacking their decade-plus back catalogue of recordings is like getting trapped in one of those clever-dick contemporary polymath novels written about everything and anything, stitched together with a little magic and mystique – they’ve sung about computer games, Nigerian fraudsters, Mexican acid westerns and strange diseases and made it sound as if it were all part of the same complex semi-submerged story. Their most recent album, ‘Make Me Young, etc.’ is a surprisingly sober banking-down of the usual playful creative fires: a crepuscular meditation on the end of the world as observed through dreams, portents, reality and intimations.



 
Once a concoction of pointy elbows and sudden shifts, Southampton avant-rockers A Formal Horse (playing in support) are growing up, out and a little away from their post-prog beginnings, powered by Hayley McDonnell’s strong carolling tones. More recent songs (like 2018’s Bird) yearn toward a kind of florid dream-folk, even as the drumming nails mozaics into the floor and the guitar describes steely math-rock machinery forms. A couple of years ago, I described them as “a bounding conceptual glitterball”. In some respects, they’ve calmed down a little since then, but only in order to apply more considered forms of straining at their genre. At the moment, they’re like a muscle developing – over-straining, gently tearing, but with the intention and ability to rebuild and go further.



 
* * * * * * * *

 
In contrast to the journeys being carried out by Major Parkinson and Thumpermonkey next week, My Octopus Mind are staying happily at home in Bristol for their own 2nd May gig. Following their jaunt around the country back in February (and a brief vigorous five-date sizzle through France and Belgium earlier this month) this time they’re choosing to draw the wider world over to themselves.

Here’s what I wrote about them last time, which they’ve liked enough to quote themselves, and which I might as well requote myself – “My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet of skittish Balkan folk.”

While going out on tour, My Octopus Mind are a trio. On home turf, they’re a sextet. They’ve had an extra pair of plug-in string players for a while, but the sixth member remains a mystery for the moment. The other thing they’ll be unveiling at this gig is their second video release: a “magical” piece of stop-motion animation by Roos Mattaar, part of Bristol’s crop of world-class animators, and the woman previously responsible for most of the video for Father John Misty’s Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution.


 
More music visuals come from Bethany Stenning, whose “tender genderless, measureless, dimensionless” Stanlæy project has migrated between Paris, Ireland and Bristol in various shapes and forms since 2016 (with Bethany constantly at the core of the catherine wheel, throwing off strands of violin, piano, guitar, voice, synth and found sound). As musician and multi-instrumentalist, Bethany starts from a perspective of “ethereal gypsy punk-pop” and moves outwards from there into the kind of neverland/neverwas experimental folk music that we used to hear from Joanna Newsom; with her fey, unusual, offbeat-beautiful voice and lyrics exploring “human life in the modern world…our ancient relationships to nature… contemplations about consciousness and free will” while nestling in sparse yet evocative post-classical, free-sounding arrangements.

Stanlæy’s current incarnation (a spacious acoustic quartet) would fit right into the night’s gig lineup; but instead we’re getting a look at Bethany’s broader artistic concerns and abilities. Her involvement tonight has more to do with her visual art side and her passion for painting, illustrating, observing and questioning the human body via story and dance. In collaboration with cinematographer Rob Ellis, she scripts and directs video art, something which first came substantially together in 2017’s ‘The Human Project’ (“seven elements embodied within seven sonic visuals… seven hues, revealing the body as a canvas to represent natural elements as a metaphor for cognitive states of mind, and the evolution of the body. The human body transforms itself into a real life canvas.”) On this occasion, she’s presenting ‘Wear The Line’, a twenty -minute short film that’s “a thought-provoking and uncannily realised representation of the current climate of gender roles and their ambiguity. Set in a universe much like our own where one word or concept can have as many meanings as there are people, the film explores the formula of femininity. It features lead performances by Flora Whitmarsh, Taylor Young and Phoebe Hopwood.” Bethany also provided the music for the film – from what I’ve heard, a hypnotic and open-ended chamber-classical ambience.



 
Also on board for the evening is Daniel Inzani, playing a mid-bill set of piano pieces. Though he’s perhaps best known at the moment for the classical/jazz/folk chamber fusion music (simultaneously luxuriant, ghostly and sprightly) which he composes for his Spindle Ensemble quartet, Daniel’s work has also embraced vigorously visual Ethopian jazz fusion with his Tezeta octet; the performance of ska, rocksteady and Mahavishnu Orchestra music; and support work in a pair of Bristolian psychedelic assemblages (Graeme Smith’s blues-reggae-meets-lounge project Dubi Dolczek and Conrad Singh’s buzz/drone Americana folk-pop array Cloudshoes). His piano solos catch up and rework bits of his own compositions, rearrangements for different spaces.


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Major Parkinson:

  • (secret location, London) – Thursday 2nd May 2019, time t.b.c. – special warm-up gig available to ticketholders for the Dome show
  • The Dome, 2a Dartmouth Park Hill, Tufnell Park, London, NW5 1HL, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here

Solent Area Prog presents:
Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse
The Joiners, 141 St Mary Street, Southampton, SO14 1NS, England
Thursday 2nd May 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

My Octopus Mind + Daniel Inzani + Bethany Stenning’s ‘Wear The Line’ (video premiere)
Cube Microplex, 4 Princess Row, Bristol, BS2 8NQ, England
Thursday 2nd May 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

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