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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…



 
* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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


 

February 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Filthy Lucre’s “night of imagined languages” featuring Claude Vivier, Laurence Osborn, Hildegard of Bingen, Bowie’s Berlin and Byrne’s babble (24th February)

10 Feb

Filthy Lucre, 24th February 2018

Filthy Lucre presents:
Filthy Lucre: “Lingua Inota – A Night of Imagined Languages”
Hackney Showroom @ Hackney Downs Studios, 13-15 Amhurst Terrace, Hackney Downs, London, E8 2BT, England
Saturday 24th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

“Every song in the night uses invented languages to express the things that real words can’t touch… The divinity of nonsense has served, like music, to say the unsayable. Whether associated with religious ecstasy or utopian projects, these utterances are inscrutable yet intimate.”

For a while now, freewheeling concert/club night/collective Filthy Lucre (run by composer Joe Bates, clarinettist Anthony Friend and composer/conductor William Cole) have been putting together events “tied together by artistic concepts, such as cultic rituals and urban sprawl.” I’ve not caught up with them before now, but this event’s an ideal opportunity to get a feel for how they think.

Incorporating chamber choir and synthesisers, the Filthy Lucre ensemble will be performing ‘Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? (Do You Believe In The Immortality Of The Soul?)’ the final, morbidly romantic langue inventée work from renegade Canadian composer Claude Vivier (infamously found in manuscript form on his desk in the aftermath of his murder, which it seemed to predict in its envisioning of a narrator stabbed in the heart by a potential lover). Also in place on the bill will be an exploration of the original lingua ignota of visionary theologian, polymath and composer Hildegard of Bingen (she of the hallucinatory Christian visions and the remarkable command of twelfth century experience from its musicality to its medicine, its theological orientations to the outer fringes of its philosophy).

In addition, Filthy Lucre will be tackling the “nonsense” of the David Bowie/Brian Eno collaboration ‘Warszawa‘ (born from Bowie’s blind phonetic transcriptions of Polish folk song) and the “electric babble” of Talking Heads. I guess they could mean the band’s pulsing Afrodelic loft-music setting of Hugo Ball’s ‘Gadji beri bimba’ (from ‘Fear Of Music’) but it could extend to any of David Byrne’s chopped songtexts – in particular, those on 1980’s haunted, free-form-sermonizing ‘Remain In Light’ and its funk’n’free-association follow-up ‘Speaking In Tongues’ (which could also have lent its name to the event).

There will also be new music by Laurence Osborn (‘ELITE’, scored for tenor, keyboard, two synthesizers and tape), art by Georgia Hicks (inspired by the illustrated manuscripts of Hildegard’s visions, which depict reality as a wheel) and a Hildegard-themed film by Paul Vernon. Various musical arrangements come courtesy of event coordinator Joe Bates himself, and from Emma-Jean Thackray.

Some examples of what’s on offer or what might be propelling the thoughts behind it can be found below…




 
(Update – 19th February 2018 – have just been able to share the Paul Vernon Hildegard trailer too. Looks as if music by Xenakis and Cocteau Twins has been added to the brew…)


 

January/February 2018 – The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York (part 1) with Kronos Quartet, Xenia Rubinos, Face The Music, Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering and Bang On A Can (27th January, 5th February, 15th February)

15 Jan

Looking over to America, the Saturday after next sees the first date in New York City’s snappy, broad-based Ecstatic Music Festival.

Ecstatic Music Festival, 2018

“Starting on 27th January and running through 26th April 2018, the festival, hailed as “the alt-classical world’s main showcase” (‘The New York Times’), will feature collaborations from more than seventy-five composers and performers from different musical genres across the sonic spectrum, including Kronos Quartet, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Margaret Leng Tan, Glasser, Xenia Rubinos, Mantra Percussion, Mahogany L. Browne, Carla Kihlstedt, Patrick Zimmerli, Ethan Iverson, Buke & Gase’s Arone Dyer, and many more. A collaboration between New Amsterdam Presents and Kaufman Music Center, the festival has nine collaborative one-night-only performances featuring world premieres, new arrangements and the exclusive opportunity to hear artists discuss their work.”

Here are some details for the first three shows (taken from the programme and tweaked/expanded where necessary), spread out from the end of January to the middle of February:

Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz's Civil Engineering, 27th January 2018

Xenia Rubinos can make social consciousness sensual,” says the ‘New York Times’. Her catchy yet exuberantly visceral songs meld weighty social issues with intimately personal ones and draw from a broad palette of influences ranging from Caribbean and jazz to indie rock, hip-hop and punk.


 
“Xenia will team up with Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering, a high-energy, ten-member multi-dimensional big band led by the protean multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz, “New York’s indie-rock Zelig” (‘New York Observer’) and Landlady frontman, to perform new arrangements of her songs, his songs, and composers they love, and to premiere new works written for the Ecstatic Music Festival.


 
“Regarding the project, Adam claims to be “chasing the spirits of Duke Ellington and Gene Wilder. I am trying to operate at a large scale that hits at the heart and can go anywhere at any time. Songs, improvisations, and adventures with a big band of impossibly talented people. This is Civil Engineering.” The band has included Alec Spiegelman, Ross Edwards, Brandon Seabrook (Seabrook Power Plant, Needle Driver), Ross Gallagher, Noah Garabedian (Big Butter And The Egg Men, Ravi Coltrane), Stephanie Richards, Curtis Hasselbring (The New Mellow Edwards, Decoupage, The Curha-chestra) and Patrick Breiner.

Kronos Quartet & Face The Music, 5th February 2018

“The adventurous, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet – one of the most celebrated and influential ensembles of our time – joins NYC’s acclaimed youth new music ensemble (and Kaufman in-house orchestra) Face the Music to perform new works written for Kronos’ “Fifty for the Future”, a commissioning, education and legacy project showcasing contemporary approaches to the string quartet that features new works by some of today’s foremost composers.



 
The two ensembles will perform separately and together: there’s no details on the Kronos setlist yet, or on the combined programme, but Face the Music will be performing Yotam Haber‘s ‘From The Book’ and Kala Ramnath‘s ‘Amrit’.

Bang On A Can People's Commissioning Fund Concert, 15th February 2018

“Co-founded in 1987 by composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, Bang On A Can has grown from a one-off concert band to a ceaselessly active, multi-bodied and internationally famous New Music ensemble, building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. Set up in 1997, long before crowd-funding became the norm through Kickstarter and the like, Bang On A Can’s People’s Commissioning Fund has pooled contributions of all sizes from hundreds of friends and fans. Since its inception as a radical partnership between artists and audiences to commission works from adventurous composers, it has commissioned over fifty works of music for New York’s electric Bang on a Can All-Stars.

“This concert, compiling new commissions for 2018 and a few old favourites, is a New Sounds Live co-presentation: it will be hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer and streamed live. There will be world premieres of pieces by George Lewis and Angélica Negrón, plus a new look at “historic” PCF-commissioned pieces by Pamela Z, Annea Lockwood, Lukas Ligeti and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.”


 
All concerts are performed at Merkin Concert Hall @ Kaufman Music Center, 129 W 67th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY 10023, USA. Dates and times below:

  • Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering – Saturday 27th January 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Kronos Quartet & Face The Music – Monday 5th February 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Bang on a Can People’s Commissioning Fund Concert – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30pmhere and here

For those who might not have already followed up on the remaining six dates between March and April, I’ll stick up reminders closer to the time…
 

January 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental gigs – Scenatet Ensemble, David Helbich and Joseph Houston at Kammer Klang (13th January, including performances of Matt Rogers and Antonia Barnett-McIntosh); Nonclassical throws it all open (17th January); Candlelight Quartet plays work by assorted new composers at London Composers Platform (14th January)

4 Jan

Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Scenatet Ensemble (performing Matt Rogers) + David Helbich + Joseph Houston (performing Antonia Barnett-McIntosh)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Kammer Klang, 13th January 2018
The year’s first Kammer Klang continues the concert series’ journey away from the more predictable rigours of contemporary classical tradition, and into areas of conceptual gesture and experiment, welcoming composers and musical enablers drawing from chance and the theatre and from the sometimes chaotic, sometimes magical diversity of human interpretation.

Pianist Joseph Houston (whose tally of experimental music collaborations and interpretations includes work with and by Christian Wolff, Simon Holt, Brian Ferneyhough, Colin Matthews, Rebecca Saunders, Christian Mason, and Klaus Lang) will be opening the show for the usual Fresh Klang sequence. He’ll be performing work by transdisciplinary composer, sound artist, performer and sometime curator Antonia Barnett-McIntosh who describes her compositional concerns and approaches as “the specificity of sound gestures and their variation, translation and adaptation, often employing chance-based and procedural operations.” Here’s a video of Joseph playing Luigi Nono, followed by one of Antonia’s pieces.

 
Brussels-based David Helbich is not so much a composer as a philosophical conceptualist interested in performance. In his travels, he “creates various experimental works on stage, on page, online and in public space… (moving) between representative and interactive works, pieces and interventions, between conceptual work and actions. A recurring interest is in the understanding of an audience as active individuals and the search for an opening-up of experiences in an artistically restricted space.”

In keeping with this, he’ll be engaging the venue audience in a “performative rehearsal” of his ‘No Music’ piece, guiding and suggesting their own collaborative potential soundmaking abilities into a spontaneous, instrumentless timbral noisework never to be exactly repeated. As he says, “No Music is no music, but still a musical experience. No music, still for your ears. Since 2010 I have worked on scores for pieces that could be performed right at the spot, in whatever context, as long as one could freely use both hands and had two functioning ears. The pieces offer notated situations of organised listening and simple ear manipulations. I understand this material more as a practice than as a series of composition, even though they can appear as such. Pieces appear in printed form as well as in spontaneous performances or entirely set theatrical or concert performances. These interventions are entirely personal and therefore not so much interactive as ‘inner-active’, self-performative. The reader as the performer as the listener.”


 
Founded in 2008, the Scenatet ensemble have enjoyed nearly a decade working in the overlapping area of live music, film, art spaces and conceptual staging, choosing to move “in a cross-genre field of music, drama and happenings towards areas with yet undefined genre… aiming to create conceptual art works where music is part of a larger whole.” Three Scenatet musicians (clarinettist Vicky Wright, viola player Gijs Kramers and cellist My Hellgren) will be premiering a new piece by British composer Matt Rogers (who, among other career triumphs, was the first composer to be commissioned by Transport for London’s Art on the Underground programme). His new piece, ‘Weep At The Elastic As It Stretches’, is a musical adaptation of ‘Prayer’, itself an excerpt of N.F. Simpson’s classic 1958 absurdist play ‘A Resounding Tinkle’.

As Matt recounts, the original text piece “takes place as a radio broadcast within a scene which is both domestic and ludicrous.It takes the form of a prayer of thanks, but the content is entirely atypical, asking that we rejoice in all manner of unexpected objects, situations and concepts, taking great delight in the most categorical of descriptions and in a complete lack of distinction between the mundane and the exotic. As is typical of Simpson’s work the effect is both ridiculous and sublime, encapsulating the ineffability of an existence somehow both arbitrary and profound. ‘Weep at the Elastic’ as it Stretches wishes to embody the attitudes and spirit of Simpson’s prayer, the final stage direction of which reads “The introductory bars of ‘Sweet Polly Oliver’ in an orchestrated version are heard from the wireless.”…”

A couple of related videos…

 

* * * * * * * *

After that, 2018’s first Nonclassical concert might feel like a comparative retreat to the familiar. A “Battle of the Bands” event transposed to the contemporary classical world, it’ll be judged by Nonclassical’s own Gabriel Prokofiev and Eleanor Ward (plus Dominic Murcott of Trinity Label and BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey), and aims to throw open some doors of opportunity for unheard or underheard contemporary composers, musicians and ensembles at the start of what might be an interesting career.

Nonclassical Battle of the Bands, 17th January 2018

Nonclassical presents:
Battle of the Bands (performers t.b.c.)
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 17th January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

“Battle of the Bands is back! Join us at The Victoria, Dalston on 17 January 2018 as we try and find the next big artists who want to showcase new and experimental classical music. From avant-garde classics to works with electronics, spoken words or improvisation, the night will showcase some of the best up and coming talent in the alt-classical scene.

“Battle of the Bands is an open contest for soloists and groups of any size. Instrumentation is limited only by your imagination! Any combination of acoustic and electronic instruments will be considered. Playing time is from five to fifteen minutes.”

I stress that it might seem like a retreat to the familiar. In fact, they’re encouraging contributions “from avant-garde classics to works with electronics, spoken words or improvisation” in order to “showcase some of the best up and coming talent in the alt-classical scene.” If all contestants really choose to stretch the envelope, we could end up with something as left-field as the Kammer Klang event above.

In a feat of considerable brinksmanship, Nonclassical are closing the competition a slender eight days before the concert. If you’re interested in entering, you have until Wednesday 10th January to fill in the application form and link to a demo track on SoundCloud, YouTube or Vimeo.

* * * * * * * *

London Composers Platform presents:
London Composers Platform: The Candlelight Quartet performs Miguel Alonso, Stirling Copland, Bertie Douglas, Allister Kellaway, Tom Mudie, Grady Steele and others
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Sunday 14th January 2018, 7.00pm
information

In between the two gigs above (both in terms of dates and the various Hackney locations), Servant Jazz Quarters is putting on an evening of “new works for piano and string trio composed by musicians from popular and classical music backgrounds.” The Candlelight Quartet will premiere a string of new contemporary classical works by an assortment of young composers: most of them at the start of their careers, and many of them currently known for work in other musical fields, including Allister Kellaway, who leads avant-rockers The Mantis Opera), dance pop experimentalist Tom Mudie (a.k.a. Mom Tudie) and Grady Steele (who spends much of his time as singer/guitarist for young indie/art-rockers Shark Dentist, who have a couple of singles out on Ra-Ra Rok Records). Other composers with works in the mix include Miguel Alonso, Bertie Douglas and Stirling Copland (the last of whom has had at least one string quartet performed at an LCP event before). It all has a welcome air of self-starter to it.


 

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