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November 2019 – upcoming classical concerts – Duncan Honeybourne premieres Richard Pantcheff in London (6th November); Scottish Ensemble’s ‘Elemental’ tour across Scotland with Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes (9th-13th November); Joby Burgess plays SOLO in London (13th November)

30 Oct

Duncan Honeybourne, 6th November 2019On 6th November, in London, Duncan Honeybourne – a longstanding specialist in British and Irish piano music – premieres Richard Pantcheff’s ‘Piano Sonata’ at the 1901 Club as part of the English Music Festival. Richard himself will be on hand to introduce the piece.

Duncan is also performing a couple of other British piano works – Frank Bridge’s ‘Piano Sonata’ (from the latter’s later post-tonal, post-impressionist compositional stage), and ‘Notturno’, by Bridge’s onetime pupil and champion Benjamin Britten (a competition piece which, rather than foregrounding performer virtuosity, challenges them to create and sustain an atmosphere involving ever-quieter dynamics). Richard Pantcheff was, in turn, Britten’s pupil – so there’s a chain of learning and of respect being explored here.

Versions of the Britten and Bridge pieces are below…



 
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Mid-month, the Scottish Ensemble embark on their four-date Elemental tour through Scotland, accompanied by Aidan O’Rourke (fiddler for striking post-folk trio Lau) and cross-disciplinary keyboard whiz Kit Downes plus guest violinist/director Simon Blendis (of London Mozart Players, Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa and Schubert Ensemble).

Scottish Ensemble: 'Elemental' tour - 9th to 13th November 2019

The program centres around a new O’Rourke/Downes co-composition ‘There is no beginning’ (written for harmonium, piano, fiddle and string orchestra) which “fuses the visceral energy and haunting beauty of Aidan’s traditional Celtic roots with wisps of jazz, folk, ambient and classical. Surrounding it will come a clutch of contemporary works that speak to us of all things elemental – space, silence, waves and air – intertwined with melodies which echo an ancient Scotland.

“The performance is inspired by Edwin Morgan’s 1984 poem ‘Slate’, generally accepted as a love letter to a politically- and environmentally-battered Scotland. Through music, alongside its two collaborators, Scottish Ensemble will explore themes of time, change and transformation, particularly in relation to our nation and our world; entities that, as with music, are subject to the constant processes of time. Sound will be used to conjure thoughts of the past, present and future of the land we all share – as well as creating a space to contemplate it.”

Several further string orchestra pieces flesh out the programme. Tansy Davies’ ‘The Beginning of the World’ was originally a 2013 BBC Proms piece and is “a variation on Sellinger’s Round, an Elizabethan theme”; David Fennessy’s 2016 work ‘Hirta Rounds’ is an unconducted piece for sixteen string player in small groups with “many different fluctuations in tempo occurring simultaneously”. From earlier on in the repertoire, there’s György Ligeti’s ‘Ramifications’ from 1968 (a “mistuned” experiment for twelve players in two groups, one of which is collectively tuned a quarter tone higher than standard pitch, and within which there are no stresses, meter or specific rhythm) and Ruth Crawford Seeger’s ‘Andante for Strings’ from 1931 (“a study in dissonant dynamics, with the overlapping of crescendos and diminuendos alone creating a sense of melody out of single pitches in each instrument.”)

Versions of the last two are below…



 

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Joby Burgess, 13th November 2019Having already made an impression this season at Daylight Music back in October, percussionist Joby Burgess is heading to Peckham’s CLF Art Café for the first in a new round of composer Alex Groves’ itinerant SOLO concerts.

As is the case with performers at all of these concerts, Joby will be playing a brand-new Groves piece (in this case ‘Curved Form (No. 18)’, one of an ongoing series) plus various other unspecified contemporary percussion pieces. There’s not much information on the latter, although there’ll definitely be some Morton Feldman and some Linda Buckley: possibly the latter’s ‘Dischordia’, played on the aluminium harp (as showcased above and below).

 
Meanwhile, there’s a Joby Q&A here, at the SOLO site, for a window into what makes him tick (and rustle, and rattle, etc.); and here are a few more Joby performances recycled from the Daylight post…



 
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Dates:

The English Music Festival presents:
Duncan Honeybourne performs Richard Pantcheff’s ‘Piano Sonata’ (première)
1901 Arts Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE
Wednesday 6th November 2019, 6.30pm
– information here, here and here

Scottish Ensemble’s ‘Elemental’ tour:

  • Aberdeen Music Hall, Union Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1QS, Scotland – Saturday 9th November 2019, 7:30 pm – information here, here and here
  • Caird Hall, City Square, Dundee, DD1 3BB, Scotland – Sunday 10th November 2019, 7:30 pm – information here, here and here
  • Galvanisers @ SWG3, 100 Eastvale Place, Glasgow, G3 8QG, Scotland – Tuesday 12th November 2019, 7:30 pm – information here, here and here
  • Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9SU, Scotland – Wednesday 13th November 2019, 7:30 pm – information here, here and here

SOLO presents:
SOLO 07: Jody Burgess
The CLF Art Café, Block A, Bussey Building, 133 Copeland Road, Peckham, London, SE15 3SN, England
Wednesday 13th November 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here, here and here
 

October 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Retrophonica at the Brunel Museum (13th); Charles Hayward presents Sly & The Family Drone, V Ä L V Ē, Timestretch Alarmsong and Atatat (19th)

5 Oct

Retrophonica, 13th October 2019

Retrophonica is a new, very accessible multi-media performance project; currently focussed on the branching aerials, primal wooo and touch-me-not anticipations of theremin playing. It’s launching itself with an evening of two (identical) concerts in the yawning brick gullet of the Brunel Museum’s Grand Entrance Chamber (also known as the top of the southern Thames Tunnel shaft).

Celebrating the instrument’s centenary, these will be an “immersive evening of music for theremin and full orchestra”, while delving into the story of the instrument’s creator, Léon Theremin. From here, it sounds as if the concerts will be a cross between a pops-orchestra occasion, a slide-show history lesson writ large and a session of nostalgic avant-garde tinkering; all of it enclosed in that bleak, beautiful and magnificently functional Victorian civil-engineering maw.

As they say themselves,“prepare for an immersive audio-visual experience, complemented by cocktails, lightshow, and narration, featuring original and adapted music for theremin by Dmitri Shostakovich, Bohuslav Martinů, Miklós Rózsa, Les Baxter, Claude Debussy and John Williams, performed by Retrophonica with thereminist Charlie Draper, new arrangements and works by Alex Palmer, and bespoke narration from author Ken Hollings.”



 
You might already know Charlie from all manner of bookings, everywhere, for both theremin and ondes martenot: here’s an earlier mention. Alex has written and arranged extensively for theatre, film and concert hall, and looks as if he’ll be adding the sweeter edge to the evening. As for Ken, although I suspect that he’ll be operating on calmer terms tonight, he’s most likely to be the one to toss in a wild card or two. Having started work in the 1970s as a literary factual editor (how ominous such a description sounds now) he went on to an early-’80s spell as vocalist and cut-up’er in Manchester post-punk band Biting Tongues, followed by an expansion into essays, libretti and experimental fiction (all of which have dipped into and across other disciplines from Japanese films to twentieth-and-twenty-first century politics to data structures).

I’ve no idea who’s contributed the orchestra. As for the cocktails, there’s no further word on them; nor on how you might mix one called a Thames Tunnel.

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Just under a week later, downriver at Deptford, London art-rock/post-punk/improvisation godfather Charles Hayward will be putting together the second of this year’s “genre-fluid” Charles Hayward Presents concerts at the Albany, unfurling “new sounds from the underground and outsider scenes of London and beyond” and massing together elements of jazz/improv, art punk, noise, contemporary classical and electronic music.

Charles Hayward Presents..., 19th October 2019According to Charles himself, his own performance centrepiece will be the project-cum-band Timestretch Alarmsong… a sequence of tunes and sound snakes that I’ve put together with Tom Challenger (Dice Factory/Ma saxophonist), Yoni Silver (multi-instrumentalist with Hyperion Ensemble and many others), Roberto Sassi (Cardosanto/Anatrofobia/Snorkel guitarist), Nick Doyne-Ditmas (double bassist and Hayward collaborator in Monkey Puzzle Trio).

“It’s tightly rehearsed and goes through a wide range of attitudes and (more importantly) emotional energies. To my ears it’s super exciting and I feel like we’ve pushed at a few barriers and come up with something new that has melody, shape and grooves from light to super heavy/dark. There’s no clips available but we will be recording the project for future release. All the players are fantastic musicians and working on the project has been a study in joyful cooperation.”

In the absence of a collective clip, here’s a scatter of solo ones and examples of related projects:





 
Three other acts join in for the night. ‘Gentle Persuaders’, the latest album from contemporary drum/noise/saxophone ritualists Sly & The Family Drone – is intended as “the politest of bludgeonings”; its creators still merge Ayler-esque free jazz, industrial rock pummel, celebratory machine hiss and the loose-hanging exploratory feel of a bass-less duo. They also still give out drums at their concerts, inviting a congregation of noise.



 
Also back in the fray is V Ä L V Ē, with music that’s less workshop than workshed. Strongly DIY (featuring reed instruments, electronics, invented gizmos, bass guitar, concert harp and singing women), it’s the sound of a trio of highly trained musical minds phasing back into spontaneity and play. A sort of three-way attempt to become idiot savants via assorted glitchery and boink, semi-spontaneous nursery rhymes and tunelets and musical devices (built out of shelves, tobacco tins, old house bells and similar Branestawmery), but via a female pattern.


 
Finally, there’s Atatat – a solo project from Liverpool art-freak music mainstay J.C. Barbara (best known as drummer/ranter for aPAtT and Barberos, and here using a very Haywardian array of drums, contact mics, loops and vocals).


 
Designer Raimund Wong (whose work has adorned posters and releases by Total Refreshment Centre, Church Of Sound and Baba Yaga’s Hut, and who shares Charles’ interest in chance theory and the ingenuity forced on artists via DIY minimalism) will be DJ-ing.

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Dates:

Retrophonica
Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, London, SE16 4LF, England
Sunday 13th October 2019, 6.00pm & 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Charles Hayward Presents… (featuring Sly & The Family Drone + VÄLVĒ + Timestretch Alarmsong + Atatat + DJ Raimund Wong)
The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, SE8 4AG London, United Kingdom
Saturday, 19 October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

October/November 2019 – Moor Mother’s ‘The Great Bailout’ with the London Contemporary Orchestra in Kraków, Gateshead, Ghent and London (6th, 12th, 16th, 23rd October), with Galya Bisengalieva and Klein joining in London. Plus further Moor Mother dates in Utrecht, Helsinki and Madrid with Zonal, Eartheater and Cruhda (7th, 11th, 15th November)

1 Oct

The unnerving, brilliant Afrofuturist beat-poet and sonic manipulator Camae Ayewa – a.k.a. Moor Mother – swings back to Europe for a brace of concerts during October and November, during which she’ll showcase her latest project, ‘The Great Bailout’. This is a collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra (arguably the capital’s most committed ensemble to both new classical concert music and its intersection with other musical forms and disciplines). It follows Moor Mother’s earlier work this year as part of liberation-jazz group Irreversible Entanglements and her recent contributions to the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s fiftieth anniversary album ‘We Are All On The Edge’ (in which she layered her poetry over the exuberant live improvisations of the surviving members of the original resistance jazz band.) For a more in-depth summary of her explosive protest-griot work, click here.

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: 'The Great Bailout' tour, October 2019

There’s not much advance publicity regarding ‘The Great Bailout’. What there is lays the ground for performances of “a free-verse poem that acts as a non-linear word map about colonialism, slavery and commerce in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.” Given that Moor Mother’s previous work has consistently exploded conceptual/emotional bombs underneath the economic, social and psychic legacy of slavery and racism in America, you can expect her to have come up with something ferociously critical of the cherished white-British myths and veilings around the history and repercussions of Empire. As the organisers put it, “we can’t help but expect the first few rows… to leave this performance with singed eyebrows and melted glasses at the very least.”

I’m guessing that the project title refers to one of the most miserable semi-secrets of the eventual abolition of British slavery – this being the handsome payoffs eventually delivered (post-emancipation) not to the freed slaves themselves as backpay, apology or recompense, but to their indignant and haughtily entitled British former owners as property compensation. This kind of withering, righteous black interrogation invading white concert halls (in fact, being invited in) is in keeping with the necessary re-examinations of the roots of modern Western culture. I’m reminded of Doris Salcedo’s colossal ‘Shibboleth’ installation at the Tate Modern, in which she slashed the gallery floor with an ever-widening crack standing for the original Tate sugar money, its dirty roots in plantation slavery, and the consequent ethical undermining of the gallery and its history – a microcosm of white Western culture and wealth and the exploitation underneath.

It’s also in keeping with the ongoing rumblings and debate regarding the slave-trading roots of Bristol, the strategic heartland of the Middle Passage’s triangular trade – with the slave trader imprints on the names of its great buildings and statuary (some of which were recently and pointedly encircled with diagrammatics of slave ships and their suffering human cargo). You can’t help thinking that the organisers of ‘The Great Bailout’ really missed a trick by not scheduling a Bristol date, and perhaps a Liverpool one, alongside the London one. Gateshead – which does get a ‘Bailout’ date – has less of a stained history in this matter, along with its sister city Newcastle: distanced from the heart of the trade, and with the Tyneside anti-slavery movement being an early starter. London, though, grew fat on the profits, with its own triangular trade bigger than anywhere else in Britain.

There may be different resonances associated with the two continental European venues on the tour. Kraków is a little detached from diasporan agony, its own kind of historic slavery having been in the form of homegrown serfdom (Poland’s class savagery was traditionally applied to its own peasants, and its colonialist oppressions visited on the nearby Ukraine rather than on Africa). Ghent, on the other hand, hosted and shaped the 1814 treaty in which, in part, Britain and Belgium applied themselves to ending African slavery and the Middle Passage trade (albeit on their own terms, part of the strategic power-plays of the age as much as it was through any humane impulses).

It’ll be interesting to see if Moor Mother will have taken note of these things, dredged up these uncomfortable stains and compromised atonements and woven them in too. Whether each city on the tour route is given its own case to answer – hidden bones coming to light after two-and-a-half centuries of obscuring and snowjobbing.


 
There will be extras at the London show. Experimental violinist and London Contemporary Orchestra member Galya Bisengalieva will be performing an opening set of her own electroacoustic chamber music, duetting live violin with cunningly sculpted electronic sound-shaping. What I’ve heard so far is elegant and highly dramatic: sonic booms, string drones, eerie hard-eyed processional melodies against harshly majestic electronic architecture and steppe-scapes reflecting Galya’s own Kazakh background.

 
A second opening set is being provided by British-Nigerian south London glitch artiste Klein. An abstractioneer for three years, she started out being hailed as a kind of reinventor of gospel. Certainly her early recordings dipped into the form and she’s admitted that for many years it was her only reference point. It didn’t take her long, however, to move far beyond it. Other early tracks came across as a collagist log of the sounds of her community: not straightforward field recordings, but crafted patchworks of impressions and implicit meaning, finding vocal and musical fragments as important, in themselves, as actual complete sentences and phrases. Her ‘Tommy’ album, in 2017, was a kind of vaporously dissolved Afro-London laptop opera.

These days, memories of black church music continue to drift and prowl through Klein’s increasingly adventurous recordings, but they’re only part of her palette. While she keeps a toehold on more mainstream black musical ideas (a track like Changes sidles up to drill music, a shuffling slide of plate over plate, of violent masculine monologue recounted), most latterday Kleinwork is miasmic re-sortings of black vocal fragments over dark ambient dreamquakes and feathertwig beats: sometimes sobs or dramatic breaths, or slivers of story (somehow bigger than they appear, the way that individual black stories so often seem to trail implication entire cultural histories). Either that or they’re ribbons of dirty noise, swirls of demonstration with strange vocal glitches playing across them – gasps, lip noises, inchoate expressiveness.





 
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Moor Mother’s own roots are in gospel too, although she’s previously qualified that “my family used to listen to scary gospel—Mahalia Jackson, people who were not just waiting for Jesus to come, but being like, “This is what we’re living with, we’re going to push through. I’m climbing up the rough side of the mountain, and we’re going to get into this chariot and go to a better place”…” There’ll be more evidence of “negro spirituals flipped, remixed, and recaptured” on the second full Moor Mother album, ‘Analog Fluids Of Sonic Black Holes’, which is emerging on 8th November. In keeping with her work so far, the record will cover the themes of “myth, black mothers, vodun, quantum futurism and post-colonial street narratives.”


 
I’m guessing that this material, or spins on it, will be in strong evidence in the three further European dates Moor Mother will be playing in November following the ‘Great Bailout’ events. The first of these will be in Utrecht, as part of the Le Guess Who? Festival. Here, she’ll be rejoining Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick‘s “smacked-out hip hop” project Zonal (as one of two featured vocalists, alongside “fire-and-brimstone dub poet” Nazamba).



 
The second event is her headlining show in Helsinki. There, she’ll be supported by Alex Drewchin – a.k.a. non-binary multi-media art’n’music hopper Eartheater: who, over a five-year span in New York, has graduated from straightforward, deliquescing dreampop covers of Kate Bush songs to flittering unorthodox trance pop and sprawling, deconstructed anti-manifestos of collaged noise and brain-jumps. Beyond the electronics, current Eartheater work reflects the idea of body as instrument, psyche as testbed, ears and memory as record-and-playback devices.

The most recent Eartheater album, ‘IRISIRI‘, is a simultaneous explosion and dismantling of sonic and conceptual ideas across the spectrum. Plunderphonic chamber music samples, scraping noise effects, dance beats and thoroughly masticated chunks of ruined pop spat out and left on New York lamp posts, in apartment stairwells and practise spaces, leaving a scattering of recombinable fragments for other people to get stuck on and to mull over; flitting word associations and deconstructions of gender, of memories, of momentary definitions. There’s even the occasional joke (“I have no metaphor for you today – I’m off work…”). It’s both impersonal and entirely personal in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em running of personal insights and questions through a mill of big city information overload. Yes, it raises more questions than it provides coherent answers, but at least it’s intent on chopping out a space of possibilities in the first place.




 
Moor Mother’s other headliner is in Madrid, where she’ll be supported by emerging Spanish eclectician Cruhda. The latter’s work is softer and in some ways more accessible than that of most of the other people covered in this post, but that’s selling it short. It’s disruptive, just in a subtler way.

Crudha’s debut EP ‘Íbera Morte‘ is founded on selections and deliberate echoes of Spanish folk music, refracted through any number of home-studio cut-up-and-stick-in methods and stylings – musical box clinkings, Dead Can Dance Gothicity; Autotune and didgeridoo buzzes; structural interruptions and glitchtronics. Sylvan organ-drone folk gets carved into by straying intrusive beats like a prowling beast on a campside sortie; by warping bass synth growls; and by vocal cut-ups and lead lines from raw railing roars to dovelike sighs and monastic harmonies. It’d be crass simply to call Crudha a Spanish Björk, but there’s a similar breadth of imagination and reconstructive willpower here, as well as a similar reluctance to abandon melody.



 
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Dates:

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: ‘The Great Bailout’

Zonal feat. Moor Mother & Nazamba;
Le Guess Who? 2019 @ TivoliVredenburg, Vredenburgkade 11, 3511 WC, Utrecht, Netherlands – Thursday 7th November 2019, time t.b.c.
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Eartheater
Tavastia Klubi, Urho Kekkosen katu, 6 Helsinki, Finland – Monday 11th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Cruhda
Siroco, Calle de San Dimas 3, 28015 Madrid, Spain – Friday 15th November 2019, 9.30pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs plus previews – Edmund Finnis premieres new piano trio on Britten Sinfonia English mini-tour (12th,13th, 15th February) – plus looks at Edmund’s imminent ‘The Air, Turning’ album and Markus Reuter’s imminent ‘Heartland’ album

8 Feb

A new Edmund Finnis composition is doing the rounds on a Britten Sinfonia micro-tour next week, taking in concerts in Cambridge, London and Norwich. The piece is a piano trio nestled in amongst a programme of compositions which examine chamber music’s historical connection to, and evolution from, Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1. Starting with this sonata, the concert progresses through Leoš Janáček’ ‘Pohádka’ and Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Le merle noir’, with the piano trio then preceding a performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s ‘Sonata for flute, violin and piano’. The performers are flautist Emer McDonough, violinist Thomas Gould, cellist Caroline Dearnley and pianist Huw Watkins.

I can’t find a title – or indeed, much more context and background – for the piano trio beyond this, although all will probably be revealed at the time. At the London date, Edmund’s also providing more details in a ticketed public talk with Dr Kate Kennedy before the concert begins. I’ve previously noted his compositional style as “flow(ing) from the luminously minimal to frenetically eerie orchestral jousts”, so he should have plenty to talk about.

Britten Sinfonia: At Lunch 2 2018-2019 – Bach, Janácek, Messiaen, Finnis and Martinu

  • West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP, England – Monday 12th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here, here and here
  • Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 1.00pm
    – information here, here and here (Edmund Finnis in conversation with Dr Kate Kennedy, 12.15pm – free event – information here)
  • St Andrew’s Hall @ The Halls, St Andrew’s Plain, Norwich, NR3 1AU, England – Friday 15th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here and here

Edmund Finnis: 'The Air, Turning'

Edmund Finnis: ‘The Air, Turning’

Meanwhile, the first recorded collection of Edmund’s compositions – ‘The Air, Turning’, which has been six years in the making – is out on 9th February on NMC Recordings. Besides the sensual title composition (an orchestral work inspired by the concept of how music’s sound vibrations thrum and manipulate the atmosphere around us), it includes five other Finnis works. There’s the slow-ringing string orchestra piece ‘Between Rain’ (as performed at the Roundhouse and at ‘Organ Reframed‘ in 2016); the crepuscular, haunting ‘Shades Lengthen’ violin concerto; the blossoming ensemble work ‘Parallel Colour’ (in which clarinet, piano, strings and percussion drip and swell like heavy dew in an unexpected spot of bluster) and his ‘Four Duets’ for clarinet and piano.

Players include the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the London Contemporary Orchestra, violinist Eloisa-Fleur Thom and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The more electronic/electrophonic side of Edmund’s work isn’t really present (for a few examples of that, visit his Soundcloud page), but it’s nodded to via the violin-plus-reverb concert hall piece ‘Elsewhere’ (which was touched on in here around two years ago when I plugged its second ever performance by Daniel Pioro). All in all, it’s exciting music – simultaneously translucent, muscular and subtly cerebral, with a rare quality of mystique and engagement.


 
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Seeing that I’ve drawn myself into writing about Edmund’s album, I’ll add something about Markus Reuter’s upcoming string quartet project ‘Heartland’. This isn’t out on record for a couple of months but has just begun to tease on Bandcamp, although Markus was good enough to send me the whole recording this week to listen to. This isn’t the first time Markus has created music which has disengaged from his usual electrophonic world of direct sound-processing and touch guitar, or in which he hasn’t felt the requirement to be present as performer. That would have been the orchestral version of ‘Todmorden 513’ a few years ago: a dense slowly-evolving soundpool built from algorithmic processes, assuming a vast, eerie and slightly melancholic ritual character to overlay its logical progression.

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Across the sixty minutes and eight sections of ‘Heartland’, algorithmic processes are once again the driving engines: mathematics lurk within the extended composition, with fractals, magic squares, and other numerical devices defining its elegant form. The piece, however (beautifully recorded in Berlin’s Kirche Zum Heiligen Kreuz, Berlin last October by the Matangi Quartet) brings more to the listener than an appreciation of structures. Beyond the initial brain-tickle, it seems that different listeners are inspired into different psychoactive responses. Active voyages of discovery seem to be a common theme. Various sleevenote contributors compare the journey through ‘Heartland’ to a Jungian river-ride through the collective subconscious, or to a Kubrickian Star Gate trip; while in the teaser video, Matangi violinist Maria-Paula Majoor appreciates the essential character of ‘Heartland’ as being “contemplative, maybe, (but) not very sure… I like that, in music… I think it’s nice to feel there is a doubt…that also gives the space for interpretation, and also for the listener to create (their) own interpretation”, and cellist Arno van der Vuurst comments that the music seems to be “searching for something”.


 
On a superficial level, ‘Heartland’ sometimes also suggests a bridge between the technical perfection of Bach baroque and the programmatic patterning of New York minimalism. It’s true that that particular bridge has already taken some heavy traffic, and from many different composers; but in Markus’ case he seems to have built his own separate bridge across the same river, and it’s only a part of the architecture and living space which the piece enables – it’s by no means its raison d’être. For initial promotion, Markus has mostly restricted himself to talking about translating processes into music, and about how his algorithmic/fractal note rows (and what progresses from them) work like carefully decorated modes or ragas; but the twinkle in his eyes suggests more. On the literary side, there are explicit references to Scarlett Thomas, short stories and sad goodbyes, and implicit ones to Thomas Mann: Markus also talks about “music that is there already and only needs to be uncovered”, and he’s clearly revelling in his opportunity to go wherever he wants and that “people want to be surprised, and they kind of like the fact that I’m an explorer.”

Matangi Quartet: 'Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland''

Matangi Quartet: ‘Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 ‘Heartland”

Due to my own circumstances, I often find that I have to run much of my music-listening time in parallel with entirely unassociated work time. In some cases this works fine: the higher levels of my brain are usually bored with lying fallow while other tasks have to be done, and the business of processing and appreciating music occupies brain space which would otherwise make me rattle and rebel. However, I do find that certain kinds of music are tougher to listen to. Much of contemporary classical music is too immediately information-dense, too neurotically intellectual – and, in a strange way, simultaneously too directly assertive and too demandingly needy for to be able to split my attention while listening to it. (Oddly enough, I have a similar response to hip hop).

‘Heartland’ is certainly full of coding, but when I ran it through the mill of listening necessity I’ve described above – while concentrating fiercely on a pile up of day-job things which needed to be fixed – I found that it also had surprisingly calming qualities. In particular, it had qualities of order – as if the pulse and pitching of the music was putting things right without relying on the usual structural/dramatic clichés to which I respond. While ‘Heartland’ is full of detail and mechanism, and while Markus is particularly open about that, much of its devicery is camouflaged: the piece does not anxiously assert its complexity and importance. Instead, I found it subtle and confident in its own intelligence, like the workings of a brain; not the chaotic, nervy dramatisation of an unbalanced mind, but something more Apollonian, with a matter-of-fact humanity. On this particular pass I didn’t feel skilled enough to analyse everything in it, but from the off I felt the structures and the processes… and also felt that I was somehow sharing in them.

This might not be a purely rational conclusion (and a different week might produce a different flexion of the imagination) but for now I’m sticking to it. Perhaps, beyond its number processes, ‘Heartland’ is a self-contained flexible map for an inner journey; perhaps, for me, it works as a set of complex mental debugging routines generated and given impetus by the chug of bow on string and the singing self-contained musicality that’s propelled string quartets in common for three centuries (and which has built a proportion of my own responses for about a sixth of that time). To these ears, this mind, ‘Heartland’ is a generous piece. It inspires a kind of serenity, even a kind of hope.

‘Heartland’ is out on Solaire Records on 12th April, and can be pre-ordered here and here.


 

January/February 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs – two premieres – BBC Symphony Orchestra delivers Richard Causton’s ‘Ik zeg: NU’ alongside Brahms and Schumann (23rd January); Peter Eötvös conducts his own ‘Multiversum’ for the Philharmonia alongside Bartók, Stravinsky and Stockhausen (7th February)

20 Jan

Quick news on two classical premieres coming up…

On 23rd January, Richard Causton’s new orchestral piece ‘Ik zeg: NU’ (‘I Say: NOW’) receives its debut performance courtesy of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It’s in good company; sitting alongside a double bill of Brahms’s Third Symphony and Schumann’s heart-on-sleeve Cello Concerto, conceived to “celebrate the friendship and musical kinship between the two composers”, conducted by Sakari Oramo and with Stephen Isserlis doing the cello honours for the Schumann.

Richard Causton

Richard Causton

But let’s focus on the Causton piece. A pleasantly humble, persistently thoughtful composer, he’s consistently delivered the goods for over twenty years now, coming up with carefully-conceived and intuitively shaped compositions. Rather too many contemporary composers hide behind their lofty concepts and allow the verbal summaries to make up for shortfalls in musical communication or audience connection. This isn’t the case here – Richard specialises not in the kind of pieces which provide concertgoer kudos without any particular joy and enlightenment, but the kind which gently, kindly set the intelligence humming. Regardless of your level of classical cultivation, you tend to leave a performance of a Causton piece feeling cleverer and more enthused than you did when you went in. It’s a rare gift, whether you’re talking about something wielded or something given.

In a recent interview with ‘Final Note’ magazine, Richard sheds some light on the new work, which is inspired by family history and the sudden sense of being set against larger, more confusing/difficult-to-process events, while also drawing comparisons between life and music. “…It’s always slipping through your fingers and if you’re lucky enough you might have some wonderful time, but you can never keep it… Music can do things with time that no other art form can… (it) can have a complex and oblique relationship with clock time; it can intensify or stretch it…. There’s a lot of fast music, which is also quite static; it’s like when you walk past a school playground you can hear so many different games, voices and conversations, and with all that going on it can still seem static – but at the same time playful and too rapid to grasp properly. We can stand back and listen to it as one big landscape. There are other parts of my piece that are extremely slow, but transform gradually over time, which can force us into a very slow place of listening. In the collision of these two kinds of music the ear is pulled in different directions.”

On 7th February, veteran Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös conducts his own new piece ‘Multiversum’ for the Philharmonia Orchestra. Written for orchestra, pipe organ (played by Iveta Apkalna) and – unusually – a Hammond organ to be played by László Fassang (and chosen as an instrument for its timbral ability to “continuously change colours” ), it’s a reiteration of space-age wonder which arrives at a time when awareness of space exploration and research is on the upturn.

Peter Eötvös (photo © Jean-Francois Leclercq)

Peter Eötvös (photo © Jean-Francois Leclercq)

It’s also an exploration of deep-level physics: Peter, who has previous form for experimenting with amplified instrument technology (not least during a lengthy spell as Stockhausen’s engineer, copyist, conductor and general utility man) and for investigating cosmically-slanted compositions, comments that “since Yuri Gagarin´s journey into space in 1961, technological advancements have caused us to marvel at the miracle of the cosmos. Research like Witten´s theory of the eleven dimensions and string theory has astounded us with its speculation on the nature of outer space, and has spurred me on in my compositional fantasy.”

In an interview this month on ‘Bachtrack’, Peter confesses that he’s been fascinated with the idea of creating a giant ambient cosmic sound since he was a teenager, and throws some more light on the conception and arrangement of the piece, including the unusual but carefully-considered positioning of the musicians onstage to provide the right kind of sonic wraparound.

‘Multiversum’ comprises the second half of a performance which also includes Schoenberg’s ‘Accompaniment to an Imaginary Film Scene’, Bartók’s ‘Dance Suite’ and Stravinsky’s ‘Symphony in Three Movements’, all chosen for their rhythmic charge and twitching nervous orchestral energy.

Obviously there are no advance clips for listening to, but here are a couple of previous Causton and Eötvös works for the curious…



 
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Dates:

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo/Steven Isserlis: ‘Richard Causton, Schumann and Brahms’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

Philharmonia Orchestra/Peter Eötvös/Iveta Apkalna/László Fassang: ‘Bartók, Stravinsky & Eötvös’
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Thursday 7th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

January 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs – Marin Allsop and the LPO bring a batch of premieres to ‘Here and Now’ (16th January); Philip Thomas, Richard Craig and Damien Harron perform Morton Feldman’s ‘Crippled Symmetry’ (22nd January); Phaedra Ensemble and friends play Meredith Monk, Caroline Shaw, Jamie Hamilton and Fred Thomas (29th January)

11 Jan
Marin Allsop, 2018

Marin Allsop, 2018

As well as interlocking with the Southbank’s SoundState festival, next Thursday’s ‘Here and Now’ concert, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Marin Allsop, is part of the orchestra’s year-long ‘Isle of Noises’ series featuring three hundred and thirty years worth of “landmark classics inspired by the British Isles.”

While other concerts in the series are likely to feature Handel, Purcell, Vaughan Williams and other longstanding canon composers influenced (in some cases) by their migration to the islands or (in others) by their responses to its landscapes, this early-stages concert is packed with – read, entirely composed of – premieres of brand new pieces. On offer are the world premieres of Arne Gieshoff’s ‘Burr’, Helen Grime’s ‘Percussion Concerto’ (with Colin Currie as soloist) and Anders Hillborg’s new twenty-minute concerto-for-orchestra ‘Sound Atlas’ (also including a battery of percussion, from the more familiar timpani and tubular bells to Chinese opera gong, vibraslap and paint tin).

In addition, there’s the British premiere of Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür’s ‘Solastalgia for piccolo and orchestra’ (featuring piccoloist Stewart McIlwham). There’s also the European premiere of Louis Andriessen’s ‘Agamemnon’, a kind of actorless, wordless instrumental opera composed by Andriessen for his own 80th birthday celebration concerts in New York last autumn, and described by him as “a war-like piece, full of fast music and nervous terror” constructed (as mythology usually is) by a babble of competing voices. Here’s a little snatch of it from the New York rehearsals…


 
Earlier in the evening, Marin Allsop will provide a free “Behind the Baton” discussion on the evening’s music and on her thoughts on classical music’s future.

Isle Of Noises, 2019

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Over the next couple of weeks, there are two interesting free concerts in the City, University of London Concert Series at the City campus in Finsbury.

Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman

The first, on the evening of the 22nd, is a performance of Morton Feldman’s ‘Crippled Symmetry’ by percussionist Damien Harron, flautist Richard Craig and Philip Thomas on piano and celesta. One of the composer’s late works (from 1983), it’s “a haunting exploration of stillness, tonal and temporal ambiguities, and musical patterning.” As presented to players, it’s a slightly disassociated triple-part score: each individual part fully notated but deliberately not synchronized with the others (leading to fascinating opportunities for uncertainty and chance).

As with many Feldman pieces, ‘Crippled Symmetry’ is also a long, attenuated listening challenge, lasting an entire hour-and-a-half. Here’s the 1991 version recorded by Eberhard Blum, Jan Williams and Nils Vigeland from Feldman’s original ensemble:


 
The second concert – a week later on the 29th – features string-quartet-plus-collaborators Phaedra Ensemble. In this case, they’re performing a programme of New York- or London-composed string-based pieces inspired by the human voice.

Phaedra Ensemble, 29th January 2019

From the American side, Roomful Of Teeth member, composer-violinist and sometime hip hop collaborator Caroline Shaw provides 2011’s ‘Entr’acte’: in part, a humorous deconstruction and reconstruction of Haydn in which his sublime classical-era tone shifts struggle to place and reassert themselves within the unruliness of twenty-first century music.

In parallel, NYC loft music veteran and intuitive voice music doyen Meredith Monk contributes her 2005 piece String Songs. Originally premiered in London by the Kronos Quartet almost exactly thirteen years ago, it’s the piece which she transposed and translated her idiosyncratic and individual vocal ideas into string quartet context for the first time. Examples below:



 
The first of the pieces from the British side – the crinkling, conversational ‘Taking a nap, I pound the rice’ (with its quinpartite nods to the compositions and thoughts of composers from the aforementioned Feldman and John Cage to Anton Webern and Thelonious Monk, and of transformative British nature writer/‘Peregrine’ author J.A. Baker – comes from Fred Thomas, one of F-IRE Collective’s multi-instrumentalist composers. Fred himself joins Phaedra for the piece on prepared piano, accompanied by percussionist Maurizio Ravalico. As with the previous performance of the piece – listen below – narration is provided on tape by rising black British actress Ronke Adekoleujo.

 
The last piece, ‘Remainder for vocalising string quartet’ is a world premiere from composer/mixed-media artist/Phaedra co-director Jamie Hamilton. It explores “the many techniques that were developed with him incorporating speech, singing and vocalisations with instrumental playing” and continues to pursue his interest in how humans use sound as a measuring medium.

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Dates:

London Philharmonic Orchestra presents:
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Marin Alsop: ‘Here and Now: Isle of Noises’
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Wednesday 16th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here (‘Behind the Baton’ talk info here)

City, University of London Concert Series presents:
Philip Thomas + Richard Craig + Damien Harron perform Morton Feldman: Crippled Symmetry
Performance Space @ City, University of London, College Building, St John Street, Finsbury, London, EC1V 4PB, England
Tuesday 22nd January 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

City, University of London Concert Series presents:
Phaedra Ensemble: Monk, Shaw, Hamilton, Thomas
Performance Space @ City, University of London, College Building, St John Street, Finsbury, London, EC1V 4PB, England
Tuesday 29th January 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London singer-songwriter gigs – Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ at the South Bank (4th July) and Holly Penfield’s ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in Piccadilly (9th July)

1 Jul

Ana Silvera, 4th July 2018

‘Oracles’ – the BASCA-nominated song-cycle by Anglo-Portuguese singer-songwriterAna Silvera – already has a seven-year history. Created more or less in parallel with her debut album ‘The Aviary’ (and originally a choral piece for the NEC choir at the Roundhouse), it’s now returning this month, freshly re-arranged for Ana and small vocal/instrumental ensemble, for a full album release and the first of two 2018 live shows.

A response to the pain of intimate family bereavement, ‘Oracles’ “draws on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.” In some senses it’s a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive.

What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterised narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes her sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.


 
For the live performance, Ana’s six-piece band features her co-arranger – Listenpony curator and singing multi-instrumentalist Josephine Stephenson – plus a wealth of folk-jazz talent in the shape of the string trio of Jasper Høiby on double bass, Alice Zawadzki on vocals and violin, and Alice Purton on vocals and cello, plus Will Barry on piano and percussion.

The concert will feature “specially arranged new songs” for the first half and a full run through ‘Oracles’ for the second: the latter including a specially commissioned dance film by Royal Ballet/’Random Acts‘ director/dancer Kate Church and art director Alice Williamson.

Ana Silvera – ‘Oracles’
Purcell Room @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Wednesday 4th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here


 
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Holly Penfield, 9th July 2018

From where she’s standing in her life right now, Holly Penfield can reach out in both directions to touch the passionate, large-lunged ingenue singer of her youth and the salty life-loving veteran she’s transforming into. Of course, she’s got a longer, bolder reach than most. Once tagged as “David Bowie meets Liza Minelli” by a surprised and wrongfooted Simon Cowell, she’s a classic torch-pop singer with a stunning voice who’s also both blessed and cursed with an upsetter’s drive. These days, as she rebounds from twenty years as a leading international cabarettier in order to return to her own songs, it’s more of a blessing.

Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).


 
It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).


 
What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).

Holly Penfield’s Fragile Human Monster Show
Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Monday 9th July 2018, 9.15pm
– information here


 

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