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March 2019 – music and theatre as ‘The Marchlands Arms’ takes over London’s transmigrational pub Ye Olde Mitre for a couple of evenings of border culture (23rd & 24th March)

19 Mar

A little way into the western edge of the City of London, between the jewellers’ quarter of Hatton Gardens and the gated enclave of Ely Place, there’s an inviting little alleyway – a tuckaway court still marked by Victorian streetlights, a little like an urban Narnia portal. As you wend your way up it, negotiating the gentle kink in the middle, a pub appears – a pub which gives the damnedest impression of having materialised from elsewhere and wedged itself into the cut-through.

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

This pub, Ye Olde Mitre, has actually been around in some shape or form since the middle of the sixteenth century – and for a long time it was perhaps London’s only example of a place which was in another place. Specifically, it was legally a part of Cambridgeshire. The beneficiary of a legal agreement regarding land jurisdiction set up around the London estate of the Bishop of Ely, it was the drinking establishment for his London servants. There are tall tales about people on the run from the City of London coppers claiming sanctuary in there, and arguing that the City police had no jurisdiction within the pub walls; no more than the Met did either.

Obviously this is a quirk of law, power and accommodation – mostly a long-standing in-joke for pint-supping conveyancers dropping in from the Inns of Court. Nonetheless, visiting Ye Olde Mitre always feels like taking a step into another kingdom, one which disregards standard unities of time and place in favour of fashioning its own. There’s the mythic touch added by the resident cherry tree, of course (which dates back to Elizabethan times and comes complete with its own Queen Elizabeth legend); but even when you’re not looking for magical signifiers – and long before you’ve become swimmy-headed on beer – the pub has the relaxed, self-contained air of somewhere entirely separate from the London bustle. Many pubs strive to become places in their own right; friendly drop-in nations. Content as its own little capsule of peace, Ye Olde Mitre manages it much better than almost anywhere else I know.

The Marchland Arms, 23rd & 24th March 2019

It’s unsurprisingly that such a place – one that flaunts and celebrates its quirky liminality – has drawn the attention of Marchland, the music-and-theatre production alliance which fixes and thrives on ideas of history and borderlines (as evidenced in their previous festival at the Bridewell a year ago.). This coming weekend, they’ll be taking over the pub, recasting it as “The Marchland Arms” and filling it with nine performances in three separate sections, turning the different spaces within the pub into murmuring, discursive rooms within which performance, music and song will gently ricochet.

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Marchland Arms - 'Once & Future Europe'

Marchland Arms – ‘Once & Future Europe’

Three pieces make up the ‘Once And Future Europe’ section, triggered by Marchland’s “fascinat(ion with) the cultural history of the legendary states that once straddled Europe’s borders. For the three shows that make up this session we asked the artists involved to, in the words of Rimbaud, remember Europe and her ancient ramparts. This is work that explores the influence of those half-imaginary places on the European psyche, and how their legacy continues to influence our notions of identity and belonging.”

The first of these pieces, ‘Lyonesse’, appears to be (at root) a conceptual celebration and exploration of the mythical drowned kingdom between Cornwall and Brittany – in other words, the sunken link in the geographical continuity of the broader Celtic nation. On spec, that sounds like a dusty old disinterral of Edwardian romanticism; but judging by the participants and their preoccupations, it won’t be. Poet-ecologist Dom Bury will, I guess, be mingling Lyonessean legend from his own West Country roots with contemporary concerns about flooding and dissolution, bolstered interjections and engagements from Katharina Engel, a German academic and theatre director whose preoccupation with hills and climbing may also feed into the work. The two will be accompanied by music from singer Sophia Brumfitt and veteran percussionist/hammer dulcimer player Dhevdhas Nair in a rich blend of European Early Music, Indian subcontinental music, jazz and African elements: Euromyth interfolding with full-world diaspora.

 
The pub snug will house ‘The Capital of Europe’ in which Charles Webber – whose two-decade-plus career as a sound artist has seen him write multimedia sound/light-and-music operas (he’s the artistic director of operaNCV), plus work with Crass’ Eve Libertine and innumerable experimental musicians and theatre companies – and Strasbourgian poet/Théâtre Volière co-director Mick Wood collaborate on “an installation of treated sound, found objects, and cut up poetry”, providing “an unguided tour through the abandoned corners, quiet squares and restless banlieues of an ideal, unreal city on the Rhine.” Sounds delightfully like an old pub story, but one which unfolds into multiple additional dimensions and textures; like that European flaneur’s collaboration between Johnny Morris and China Miéville which never actually happened.

Transforming the lounge, the last of the three ‘Once And Future Europe’ pieces – ‘Ionic’ – asks us to reimagine the space as“a café in fin de siècle Alexandria” in which a new dance theatre piece will play out. Rambert School graduate Janacek Wood choreographs an episode of interweaving texts and movements based around the work of Cairo-based, Alexandria-born Egyptian-Greek poet Constantin Cavafy, whose early life saw his family relocate between France, England and Constantinople in their own mournful, economically-driven private diaspora.

Cavafy himself ended up writing a body of work that’s a Hellenistic re-examination of what Wiki summarises as “uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia.” The best-known of these poems is the sardonic Waiting For The Barbarians, in which an external exotic threat serves as both spice and hollowing-out of a moribund politics: I can’t think what that reminds me of now. Music comes from two Greek musicians – singer Savina Yannatou and classical guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis – and from electric guitarist/composer/personal ethnologist Alex Roth, who’s recently been pursuing his own Jewish diasporan heritage on a three-cornered journey that’s taken in Manchester, London and his current dwelling place of Warsaw.

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Marchland Arms - 'Customs & Duty'

Marchland Arms – ‘Customs & Duty’

Three more pieces make up ‘Customs & Duty’, “a session of shows exploring the interaction between folk culture and high art, and how identities shift when the lines between arbitrarily imagined communities are blurred… Must we declare our customs at the customs post? Is it our duty to pay duty on them? To whom do they belong? Who decides what they’re worth? What will they cost us when they’re taken away, dissected, repackaged, and sold back to us?”

For this, there’ll be a variation on the ‘Before and After Schengen’ piece which was one of last year’s Marchland centrepieces: Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes responses to Spanish photographer Ignacio Evangelista’s photos of border facilities, with guests and actors from the Marchland Arms Company contributing to a staging of the outcome, making the room “the Kafka-esque border post of a once or future East-European regime.”

Last time around at Marchland, Carneval String Trio’s viola player Shiry Rashkovsky contributed the ‘Shengen’ music. This year, she’s reviving a nineteenth-century middle-European tale with storyteller James Peacock in the shape of ‘Fritz and the Bohemian’ a tale of kindness, cyclic events and wanderings (“each year, on the first day of Spring, an itinerant musician comes to play beneath Fritz Kobus’ window…”).

Rounding off this section is a new Théâtre Volière play, ‘Goethe in Alsace’ – a one-act historical tale of cultural enrichment, “careless play-acting (and) casual cruelty” set around the border region of France and Germany, and questioning the assumptions and entitlements surrounding nascent male artists and the women whom they select as muses.

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Marchland Arms - 'The Northern Marches'

Marchland Arms – ‘The Northern Marches’

The three final Marchland Arms pieces comprise ‘The Northern Marches’ and focus specifically on the Scottish and English border country “(a) region, rich with the history of the Border Reivers of the debatable lands, the Roman garrisons of Hadrian’s Wall, and dramatic elopements to Gretna Green, has other, fresher stories to tell. How does its often romanticised past inform the Scottish borders’ present, and to whom do its stories old and new actually belong?” For this section, there’s a play (of sorts), a talk and a musical session.

Théâtre Volière return – teamed with poet Katie Hale and singing, fiddle-playing Scottish music specialist Lori Watson – to deliver a preview of ‘Gretna’: an actors/reciter/musician performance and ongoing project “exploring the culture of the region from the perspective of the women so often written out of its history.”

On the trail of linguistics and naming, University of Glasgow professor Eila Williamson provides ‘The Meaningful Merse’; throwing a little light on her REELS project work (Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland) in “a fascinating look at how history’s great, long term shifts in ethnic and cultural identity are often written in to the localised place-names, folk memory and dialects of Europe’s border regions.”

Finally, Lori Watson returns with her own set, performing in duo and bringing Scottish coastal and border folk music to close out the section in “a haunting collision between traditional music and found, ambient sound, in a performance ranging from the intimate to the epic.”

* * * * * * * *

There’s a general preview here:

 
Dates and times:

Marchland presents:
‘The Marchland Arms’
Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court, off Ely Place/Hatton Garden, Holborn, London, EC1N 6SJ, England

January 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs – baroque, folk and present-day music intertwine at the second Baroque At The Edge festival (4th to 6th January)

2 Jan

Baroque At The Edge festivalAs regards classical music, this month appears to be opening with London’s second annual Baroque At The Edge festival across the 4th, 5th and 6th January. Dividing its time between the Clerkenwell classical-church venues of LSO St Lukes and St James Clerkenwell, it starts from a baroque basis but roughly postulates (as it did last year) along the genre-blurring lines of “imagine if Bach was a jazzman, Purcell a folk-fiddler, and Monteverdi a minimalist…”

Following on from 2018’s debut festival, there’ll be a return engagement with concert dramatist Clare Norburn. Having tackled the murderous guilt and glory of Carlo Gesualdo last time around, Clare’s new work ‘Burying The Dead’ (premiered in the West Country last May) is another deathbed dream drama: this time set in 1695 and focusing on the final protracted thoughts and hallucinations of Henry Purcell as “dream-like memories of the Plague, the Fire of London, family life and the vibrant Restoration stage merge seamlessly with his exquisite vocal and instrumental music.” Said music will be provided by London-based baroque ensemble Ceruleo, who commissioned the play, while actor Niall Ashdown features as Purcell.


 
There’s more Purcell-related goings-on via Cecil Sharp House choir director and Wing-It Singer leader Sally Davies, who with her chorally-minded pianist daughter Holly Cullen Davies is running an open-to-all English folksong workshop, focussing on the songs Purcell would have known and referred to. In a similar spirit, the festival’s closing concert features a team-up of Dipper Malkin (John Dipper on fourteen-string viola d’amore, Dave Malkin on guitar and vocals) and singing storyteller Nick Hennessy – all three keen folk-steeped reinventors, on this occasion exploring how “the sophistication of Purcell meets the soul of English folk.”



 
Several more cross-disciplinary players are taking part. Violist Liam Byrne promises a concert in which you can “expect anything, anyhow, from (Marin) Marais to (Nico) Muhly, although he’s keeping schtum on whether he’s playing pure and acoustic or with the electronics or conceptual tricks which make up the other side of his playing. Path-forging post-classical singer Nora Fischer, accompanied by theorbo lutenist Mike Fentross, will delve into the world of seventeenth century song with “intimate and exquisite re-imaginings of works by Purcell, Peri, Monteverdi and others.”




 

Elsewhere in the festival, vigorous violinist Elicia Silverstein will join the dots between Bach and Biber (representing the baroque) and Luciano Berio and Salvatore Sciarrino (representing the contemporary), as demonstrated on her 2018 debut recording ‘The Dreams And Fables I Fashion’. Replacing a planned baroque piano concert from Gabriela Montero (after she had to drop out following surgery), her fellow pianist David Greilsammer provides his ‘Scarlatti:Cage:Sonatas’ dual keyboard programme which constantly interlaces the music of Domenico Scarlatti with the twentieth-century prepared piano compositions of John Cage (hardware, wood and rubber resonating and burring between the strings).




 
Less compressed information, plus full dates and ticket info, can be found at the festival’s homepage and Facebook page.

‘Baroque At The Edge’
LSO St Luke’s, 161 Old Street, St Lukes, London, EC1V 9NG, England
St James Clerkenwell, Clerkenwell Close, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 0EA, England
Friday 4th January to Saturday 6th January 2019 (various times)
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – flexi-clectica at Apple Tree: The Live Lounge Vol II with Rudi Douglas, J. Aria, Awkward Ndure, DJ Sonikku, Martell O’Neill, Daryl Fox-Huxley and DJ Kevin Morosky (2nd August)

31 Jul

Apple Tree: The Live Loung Vol. II, 2nd August 2018Since its launch earlier this year, broad-based London music-and-performance event Apple Tree has set itself a bold framework. Curated by tireless promoter and club personality Mark-Ashley Dupé and by cross-disciplinary designer/film-maker Samuel Douek, its Live Lounge event is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA musicians and artists from across the city (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual/allies, for those having trouble keeping up with those ever-burgeoning inclusive acronyms). It’s also happily intersectional in both intent and in entertainment. The convergence of queerness and blackness already seems to be a specialty, offsetting the compressive grinding of racism and the bristling aggression of homophobes by providing a stage for some fiery and assertive performers.

If this is starting to sound too specialised, too academic, or too much like a sexual/political cul-de-sac, I should reign things in a bit. In fact, the backbone of the debut Apple Tree evening back in June (which I only caught up and heard about recently, several months after the event) seems to have been electric/eclectic soul, provided by singer-songwriters Miggy Dela Rosa, Albert Gold and Awkward Ndure. Gay electro-acoustic composer Daniel McBride was also on hand, his work bridging that gap between the capital’s young classical scene, its queer-arts scene and the electronic music continuum which unites (in both work and play) pop, dance culture and high-art experimentalism. Bringing the words was topical poet and fervent discursor Black Ops Poetry; bringing the costumes and personae was queer cabaret sensation Rhys Holis (performer of Rhys’ Pieces and founder of Dalston cabaret night Queefy); and bringing damn near everything was operatic/discursive costumed electro-acoustic performance artist Oberon White (who considers himself “part of an eclectic tradition incorporating shamans, clowns, automata, cyborgs and drag artists”).

In other words, Apple Tree’s shaping up to be an event that’s equally comfortable with party pop and far-out high art concepts, unifying them through a flexible, diverse queer lens. There aren’t that many places where you can see a happy, possibly camp singalong immediately followed by a text-spouting man dressed as a mythical Greek bird-god.

The upcoming second Apple Tree Live Lounge show at the beginning of August is perhaps a tad less adventurous than the debut was, but it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and comes packaged with dinner care of Shoreditch’s Hoi Polloi brasserie and a DJ set from photographer/film director Kevin Morosky. As for the performers, Awkward makes a return from the launch event with her Latin-tinged folk-soul – at least I think it’s her, since some of the publicity suggests that it might be Evan Williams from MTV teen comedy ‘Awkward’ (which in turn makes me feel as if I’m slipping down some rabbit hole of an involved in-joke). Assuming that I do have the right Awkward, here’s a clip of her performing with guitarist Sim Chappelle a couple of years ago. I’m on more solid ground with the billing for accomplished soul’n’stage singer Martell O’Neil (whose past and current work includes the travelling Motown revue ‘How Sweet It Is’); and for Daryl Fox-Huxley, the current/former guitarist for house-tinged indie pop act The Hook, now concentrating on solo work with a folk-pop base, “his own East London twist and lyrics to match” and probably at least a few other hints and approaches brought in from his abiding love for reggae, techno and techhouse.



 
Headliner Rudi Douglas is a onetime ‘X Factor’ contestant (he was in the 2006 series when he was nineteen) but don’t hold that against him, or allow it to constrain him. Instead, take a look at and have a listen to this – ‘He Won’t Swim In My Ocean’, a four-year-old but evergreen song which proves that Rudi doesn’t need the Cowell circus to help him make grand heartbursting pop, with a gay theme but a universal touch.


 
For this session, the more experimental kudos is provided by DJ Sonikku (who mashes ‘80s house into chiptune with the aid of the purloined and repurposed guts of Sega Mega Drive consoles) and even more so by Jacob Aria – a.k.a non-binary soundscaper J. Aria. Interested in “tension, desolation, morbidity and eroticism”, J. creates intricate, absorbing musical washes, beats and tapestries via sampler, turntable and voice in which hauntology, psychedelic ambience and hints of house engage in a spectral, full-bodied mysterious dance: a ghostly neighbourhood of percolating histories for “a world of heterotopic ‘otherness’, pushing senses of horror and psychosis within queerdom and the incidental beauty of the fractured”.

 
Apple Tree Live presents:
Apple Tree – The Live Lounge – Vol. 2: Rudi Douglas + Jacob Aria + Awkward Ndure + DJ Sonikku + Martell O’Neill + Daryl Fox-Huxley + DJ Kevin Morosky
Miranda @ Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, 100 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JQ, England
Thursday 2nd August 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here
 

June 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental gigs – Neil Luck & ARCO plus Oliver Coates/Eliza McCarthy/Tom McKinney performing Laurie Spiegel, Neil Luck and Alexia Sloane at Kammer Klang (5th June); Anyanna Witter-Johnson, Cecilia Bignall, Beth Higham-Edwards, Gabriella Swallow and others play Midori Komachi, Zoë Martlew, Freya Waley-Cohen, Charlotte Harding and others at Nonclassical EP launch (6th June); Jenni Roditi & The Improvisers’ Choir at Club Inégales (7th June)

26 May

Kammer Klang, 5th June 2018The first full week of June sees a three-in-a-row set of London gigs combining the contemporary classical and the outright experimental.

The Kammer Klang season bridging 2017 and 2018 now comes to its summer close with a double ensemble show featuring the unconventional trio of Oliver Coates (cello), Eliza McCarthy (piano) and Tom McKinney (banjo), and Neil Luck‘s ARCO quartet (Neil on voice and objects, joined by fellow composer/squib-box founder/ vocalist Adam de la Cour, violinist Chihiro Ono and viola player Benedict Taylor).

The Coates/McCarthy/McKinney trio will be playing chamber music by American composer Laurie Spiegel, who divides her time between professional programming and automation and writing the original music which the other two activities both inform and fund. Along with Suzanne Ciani, she’s a precursor of many latterday women immersed in and shaping music tech, such as Holly Herndon.

Once a leading light of the New York New Music scene, Laurie distanced herself from it just as it hit its public heyday in the early ’80s, having come to believe that it had sacrificed artistic integrity in favour of pumping out a readily consumable project. Since then, working for or in collaboration with various giant American communication technology firm, she’s followed her own interactive/algorithmic-inspired path primarily on electronic instruments, ranging from the Buchla synthesizer to early software synths or samplers. Among other things, she’s the conceiver and programmer of Music Mouse, mid-’80s compositional software with a “built-in knowledge of chord and scale convention and stylistic constraints” in order to encourage those who use it to think about other musical factors.

Despite Laurie’s usual focus on electronic sound production and methodology (plus its expansion into visual components), she began her musical life very much as an acoustic player – self-taught on mandolin, banjo and guitar, later moving on to lute – and has continued to write for traditional acoustic instruments either solo or in groups, and it’s this area of her work that gets an airing at this particular Kammer Klang. Seems it’s difficult to dig up examples of her acoustic work on Youtube, so instead here’s a quick, rare clip of her playing guitar followed by the New Music USA documentary from four years ago which it’s taken from, investigating Laurie’s work in broader terms (including the concept of her as a “grassroots technologist”).



 
Accompanied by a video work by Anders Bigum with Neil Luck, ARCO will be performing the British premiere of Neil’s new work ‘Live Guy Dead Guy’. One of Neil’s fields, loosely speaking, is musical theatre, but not of the ‘Oklahoma!’ or ‘Hamilton’ side. Rather, it’s peculiar, sometimes comical or unsettling interactions between live musicians and noisemakers, performance artists and (sometimes) whoever happens to be present in the venue at the time. One of his previous pieces, ‘Submission (Rear Naked Choke)’, is scored for “guitarist and stagehand”, while his choral work ‘PA’ features a standard choir plus speaker but also “optional audience participation”.

‘Live Guy Dead Guy’ has been described as “a batty display of his thoughts around digital identity and avatars.” Here’s a baffling clip from his earlier, similarly-themed lo-budget experimental work ‘Perfect Geek’, in which “a prodigal son returns home from Silicon Valley to visit his traditional Danish parents… he’s brought his fiancé with him; a digital avatar he’s programmed himself. Using a sort of reverse motion-capture/bad-puppet performance technique the scene classical contemporary post-digital fears via jarringly conspicuous non-digital means.”


 
The opening Fresh Klang item will be a solo cello performance (by Oliver Coates) of ‘Gate, gate’ by emerging synaesthetic British composer Alexia Sloane, whose inspirations are “nature, philosophy and psychology. She also enjoys exploring the setting of texts from a wide range of cultures and languages. Her method of composing involves very strongly imagining the pitches she wishes to be played or sung both melodically and harmonically away from any instrument. She writes the pitches down in Braille music and then dictates them to an amanuensis. The use and effect of silence in music fascinate her, perhaps as a result of her love of Buddhism.”

Here’s her earlier ensemble piece ‘Colour’ from the 2016 Aldeburgh Young Musicians apprentice weekend.


 

Kammer Klang presents:
Oliver Coates/Eliza McCarthy/Tom McKinney play Laurie Spiegel + Neil Luck/ARCO + Oliver Coates plays Alexia Sloane
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 5th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

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The following night, there’s a launch concert for Nonclassical‘s new EP release – ‘Outside The Lines – Vol. 2’.

Nonclassical, 6th June 2018“The ‘Outside The Lines’ series showcases new and emerging artists, bringing interesting, boundary-pushing music to the fore, and spanning the breadth of the new classical music scene in London and beyond. Curated by radio DJ, tastemaker and all-round musical adventurer Nick Luscombe, the EP celebrates the diverse breadth of new classical music being created in scenes in London and beyond.

“A selection of artists from the EP will perform live, alongside sets by Nonclassical DJs. There’s a new work by Midori Komachi for violin and field recordings, plus a new composition by Zoë Martlew for cello and tape performed by Cecilia Bignall – both of which will be performed live, alongside other artists and sets by Nonclassical DJs.

“Also featuring contributions from singing cellist Anyanna Witter-Johnson, percussionist Beth Higham-Edwards, cellist Gabriella Swallow, and composers Freya Waley-Cohen and Charlotte Harding, the release is available for streaming and download from 8th June. It’s an EP full of artists that are bending the rules and finding their voice – artists that aren’t afraid to colour outside the lines. Enter the secret bookcase at the back of The Victoria in Dalston to join us for the launch party.”

There’s not much more information on the EP just yet, so here are some previous pieces and performances by some of the associated composers and performers:




 
Nonclassical presents:
Outside the Lines #2 EP Launch: Anyanna Witter-Johnson + Cecilia Bignall + Beth Higham-Edwards + Gabriella Swallow etc. (playing Midori Komachi, Zoë Martlew, Freya Waley-Cohen, Charlotte Harding etc.)
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 6th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

* * * * * * * *

…and the evening after that, Club Inégales continues its Song Of Songs sequence (I’m a bit disappointed that I’ve missed the existence of the preceding ones…)

Club Inégales, 7th May 2018

“…Drawing inspiration from Middle Eastern and Asian poets such as Rumi and Khalil Gibran, and that exceptionally sensual chapter in the Bible ‘The Song of Solomon’, our house band and talented guests will be celebrating music and poetry that expresses love and devotion, in both human and mystical ways.

“In the fourth of five shows, we are very lucky to be showcasing the talents of Jenni Roditi‘s The Improvisers’ Choir, who recently won the Non-Classical Battle of the Bands Competition. They are truly impressive, and we can’t wait for them take us on spontaneous journeys of vocal invention from our Euston HQ.

“As always, our ever-adventurous house band Notes Inégales will be on hand to help bring both artists’ exciting sonic explorations to life. As always, there’ll be delicious food from Taste of India available on the day, and free WiFi.”

 
Club Inégales presents:
Jenni Roditi & The Improvisers’ Choir
Club Inégales, 180 North Gower Street, Euston, London, NW1 2NB, England
Thursday 7th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

April 2018 – folk-theatre in progress in London and Bristol: ‘Travelling With Thomas’ (12th, 23rd, 24th April)

8 Apr

I can’t believe that, up until now, I’ve managed to miss news of this. A team gradually workshopping a brand-new folk musical and bringing it to the public in Bristol and London this month – a folk opera, really, based on an old, old story (in fact, one of my favourites of its kind, about a man given the twisted gift of prophecy along with the inability to lie, often with the proviso that the results will come back and hit him).

'Travelling With Thomas', 2018

“An ancient tale. A new twist. A musical journey. ‘Travelling With Thomas‘ presents an interactive gig that presents beautiful new songs, music and artwork to explore the legends and folklore of Thomas the Rhymer. Forced to travel to Fairyland, Thomas is helped and hindered as he tries to find a safe way home. It is a tale of fairness, love, truth and time. Come and join the journey!

“Composer Laurel Swift and designer Lizzie Watts invite you to share their journey with some of the finest performers on the scene as they start to create a new folk musical, and conclude their first year-long collaborative project. This fourth and final showcase is a summary of the perilous journey so far and a tantalising insight into what’s to come. It’s a unique, behind the scenes insight into the artistic development of ‘Travelling with Thomas’. Through an exhibition and concert, view Lizzie’s distinctive artwork and hear Laurel’s contagious music performed by a captivating cast of leading folk performers.”

Laurel’s already an inspiring (or intimidating) talent – the founder, leader and choreographer of the self-explanatory Morris Offspring dance troupe; ceilidh fiddler and singer in The Gloworms; double bassist in Gadarene; and clogdancer in pretty much everything she does. She’s dipped into storytelling before, telling a semi-improvised selkie tale as the instrumental/dancing half of the ‘Under Her Skin‘ team (alongside performance storyteller Debs Newbold). Lizzie is even more deeply embedded in tale-telling, probably being best known as a third of the three-woman core of Thimble Theatre who assemble physical theatre out of circus, music and traditional arts.

In addition, the ensemble putting the music together is a pretty fantastic cross-section of British folk, classical and theatrical crossover. It features singer and fiddler Ben Moss (Lauren’s partner in both Ben & Laurel and the spring-themed touring show ‘A Branch of May’), plus Lizzie’s Thimble Theatre cohort Harriet Riley (marimba and percussion, also in Spindle Ensemble and Tezeta). Other members are Hazel Askew (voice and flute, from Lady Maisery and The Askew Sisters), Nick Janaway (a.k.a. Newton Disc, voice and guitar), Deb Chalmers (fiddle and viola, from Stepling, The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra and innumerable sessions), Sarah Moody (cello and voice, from The Devil’s Violin), and finally the Bellowhead/Faustus duo of Benji Kirkpatrick (voice, bouzouki) and Paul Sartin (fiddle, oboe, voice).

Dates and places:

  • Horsefair (formerly the Alliance Boots store), 49 The Horsefair, Broadmead Shopping Centre, Bristol, BS1 3JY, England, Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Gunnersbury Park Museum @ The Small Mansion, Gunnersbury Park, Acton, London, W3 8LQ, England, Monday 23rd April 2018, 1.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AY, England, Tuesday 24th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

Sadly, I’ve picked this up too late to bring news of opportunities for you to get involved in the early developments, but at least you now get to see the work in something close to a finished form. Here are a couple of videos to explain more of the concept…

 

February-March 2018 – music and more from across the European borderlands and migrations, as part of the ‘Marchland’ performance season in London (various dates between 7th February and 3rd March) including KultNett, Sefiroth, Carneval String Trio, Åkervinda, Nikos Baroutsakis, Maiden In The Moor, Shiry Rashkovsky, Fran & Flora and Bardos Band…

1 Feb

Sprawling out over a long month between early February and early March, Théâtre Volière’s Marchland performance season will transform the City of London’s Bridewell Theatre into a recreation of “a secluded European theatre” aiming – via discussion and performance, music and acting, photography, discussion and art – “to explore what it means to be European today… everything that is good and bad about the human response to being pushed up against “otherness”…. (to) come together to share and unpick these European stories in an attempt to answer the question, “how do we live together?”…” Slipping in under the frowning threat of a hard, bruising Brexit and the rising of surly, xenophobic British fences, it’s a welcome and timely thing.

In principle, ‘Marchland’ is theatrical. Threaded through the season are performances of Volière’s own ‘Arnika’ dealing with the corrosive effects of dreadful secrets and guilt, post-Nazi occupation, in an Alsace town (exemplifying “the tragic choices forced on a border community trapped in a cycle of international vengeance” and of its quadralingual companion piece ‘Retour au pays‘, “exploring the multi-lingualism of border regions and its effect on their cultures” via the story of Alsatian poet Andre Weckmann and his journey – as a forced military draftee – through the Wehrmacht, the Russian front and the Free French). Also on offer are two pieces by La Soupe Compagnie: ‘Macao et Cosmage‘ (their headphone-driven children’s tale of colonialism – “part Japanese kamishabaï paper theatre, part pop-up storybook” – performed in a tiny twelve-person booth), and their poetry-and-puppetry-incorporating ‘Evocation’, a transposition of ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ (Albert Giraud’s Symbolist poem-cycle of conscious, candid estrangement and displacement) to a Victorian-era Brighton Beach where it’s fed through the experience and cyclic memories of a traumatised young female refugee (scored by electro-acoustic composer Antoine Arlot). There’ll also be a festival-spanning interactive attempt (featuring the combined efforts of Marchlands artists and audience) to create and represent a borderland country of the imagination.

Yet – point for point and performer for performer – the majority of the festival is musical, bringing together a fascinating sweep of players from across Europe and interspersing them with British musicians exploring transcontinental roots and history (whether these are their own – as in the case of British-based Sephardic ensemble Sefiroth – or where their curiosity, studies and sympathies have led them.

Here’s a breakdown of the musical events, condensed from various bits of the programme text.

Carneval String Trio

Carneval String Trio

Carneval String Trio (made up of violinist Kamila Bydlowska, viola player Shiry Rashkovsky and cellist Timothée Botbol) have created a fascinating programme of twentieth-century music for us. Vanished kingdoms and shifting borders here, in an Eastern Europe where identities and allegiances were torn apart under the most savage circumstances imaginable.

“They’ll be playing pieces by Zoltán Kodály, Ernő Dohnányi and Gideon Klein, works that shock and mesmerize in equal measure. Each of these composers used folkloric themes to express their unique national identities, and yet these identities were rewritten for them many times as borders shifted and ideologies fought over their homelands. This is music that challenges us to ask “what is left of our identity when it is warped and usurped by the forces of nationalism?”

“The cultural and political history of the former Yugoslavia features large in this year’s ‘Marchland’. Greek guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis joins the conversation with a recital of music from the Balkans and the wider region, where Europe meets the Middle East. He’ll be playing pieces inspired by the folk culture of Armenia, the Balkans (including the former Yugoslavia) and Turkey.

“Carlo Domeniconi’s Variations on ‘Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım (I’m On A Long Narrow Road)’ – a Turkish folk song of pain and suffering – opens the programme. It is followed by four traditional Armenian dances arranged for guitar by Iakovos Kolanian. Finally, a rare performance of Dusan Bogdanovic’s ‘Six Balkan Miniatures’, composed for and dedicated to, world peace during the Yugoslavian Civil War.


 
Fran & Flora are cellist Francesca Ter-Berg and violinist Flora Curzon. BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction described them as fiercely passionate and a string duo bound for glory, and that says it all about their approach to music making and their musical influences. For ‘Marchland’, they will be exploring musical styles from Eastern Europe, and how they are influenced by ongoing exchanges and tensions across borders and migrating communities. Expect soulful laments, exquisite songs, irresistible dance tunes, and tales of their musical adventures as outsiders intent on incorporating traditional music-making into their own, unique style.


 
“In addition, they’ll also perform in a double bill of music and conversation with Nikos Baroutsakis (extending their programme, their distinctive music-making interspersed with anecdotes and insights from their musicological travels in the Balkans) and, in another event, pairing up with Alex Batesmith’s dramatised talk ‘Blackbirds and Blue Helmets’ (about his experiences as a UN war crimes prosecutor in Kosovo and his travels in the former Yugoslavia).

Bardos Band

Bardos Band

“We were keen to programme work for ‘Marchland’ that explores the way culture is transformed as it crosses borders. ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ (from mediaeval music specialists Bardos Band, combining the talents of Sophia Brumfitt, Rebecca Austen-Brown, Corinna Silvester, Arngeir Hauksson and Leah Stuttard) shows us that this is an ancient and ongoing process.

“This is a melting-pot of rare and deeply-affecting music, woven around an ancient folktale. A resourceful harper charms his audience to sleep in order to steal their magical harp – The Oak of Two Greens. The harp belongs to the king of the Tuatha da Dannan; a legendary tribe which, according to legend, brought music to Ireland. Bardos Band follow the route this music might have travelled, using voice, harp, medieval fiddle, gittern, flutes and symphony to create an enchanting wash of sound.”

(Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any embeddable examples of the Bardos’ treatment of ‘The Oak Of Two Greens’, but it’s close enough to Christmas for me to offer you this…)


 
“The Bardos Band’s Sophia Brumfitt and Leah Stuttard also make up the early-music due Maiden In The Moor. For their own ‘Marchlands’ performance they’re reviving the music of Occitania, a vanished kingdom that once straddled Southern France and Northern Spain.

Maiden In The Moor

Maiden In The Moor

“The Occitan Troubadours sang of loyalty, love and longing, and their language and music survived through travelling poets and illuminated songbooks long after their culture was devastated by the Albigensian Crusade. Their work had a profound influence on European music and culture, and echoes of it can be heard in lieder, folk music, and the work of the singer-songwriters of our own time. The programme includes Troubadour and Trouvère songs, songs from the courts of Aquitaine and the Languedoc, and Spanish pilgrim songs.”

(Although there’s not much Maiden In The Moor material online, here’s an example of Occitan songcraft…)


 

“Norway’s KultNett bring together some of the foremost folk musicians and storytellers from beyond the Arctic Circle to examine the history of the peoples of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Sápmi, the land of the Sámi people. Storytelling, a fast and furious fiddle and the traditional ‘joik’ of the Sámi are interwoven to create a performance that explores and interrogates the dynamics of cultural and ethnic hegemony in the Nordic region of Europe.


 

Ignacio Evangelista: 'After Schengen'

Ignacio Evangelista: ‘After Schengen’

“Adapted especially for Marchland and illustrated by a multi-media presentation, this is a truly immersive experience; a rare insight into a rich and vibrant borderland culture from the Northernmost reaches of Europe. They’ll also play in a separate double bill with Bardos Band, presenting an extended version of their Marchland programme.

“Inspired by Ignacio Evangelista’s photography sequence ‘After Schengen’, we brought together three artists to create an interdisciplinary event, ‘Before and After Schengen’, exploring the politics and the poetry around notions of the vanishing border.

Shiry Rashkovsky

Shiry Rashkovsky

“In front of a screening of his work, Ignacio will be talking about his fascination with Europe’s disused border posts. His talk will be interwoven with poems by Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes, written in response to Ignacio’s images and read by George himself. The whole will be framed by a unique performance of musical fragments and improvisations devised by Carneval String Trio violist Shiry Rashkovsky (also an associate member of the Philharmonia Orchestra).

This is a truly international collaboration that encapsulates perfectly the spirit of ‘Marchland’). Expect to find yourselves pondering the ephemeral and often arbitrary nature of borders. ‘Before and After Schengen’ will also be performed as a separate double bill with another extended performance of Kultnett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’.


 
Sefiroth is an international collective of musicians founded by brothers Nick and Alex Roth to explore traditional Sephardic repertoire. music from the descendants of the Jews who left Spain or Portugal after 1492. Sung in Ladino (a language primarily spoken by Sephardic Jews), these ancient songs weave stories of love, loss and yearning for home, and evoke the lands where the diaspora settled: Iberia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“The group’s arrangements are as porous and wide-ranging as the history of the Sephardim, combining acoustic and electric instruments, improvisation, modern harmonies and trance-inducing rhythms. They’ll also be performing separately alongside Maiden In The Moor in a double bill; setting the revived music of a vanished culture alongside the living, evolving traditions of a banished people.


 
“Sweden and Denmark’s Åkervinda perform their unique, modern Scandinavian folksongs. Jazz singers at heart, and influenced by artists such as Björk and The Real Group, they share a deep love of folk music. Through improvisation, they breathe new life into traditional songs, singing stories of women through the ages in a programme of haunting harmonies and dazzling improvisations inspired by women’s history and the shifting populations of Europe. Their appearance at Marchland marks the opening of a UK tour and the release of their latest album. They’ll also be performing in a separate double bill with Maiden In The Moor.


 
“What can we say about our show ‘A Vanished Kingdom’? Not much, since it’s actually mostly your show and you’ve yet to devise it! Come and help make a season-long, open-access interdisciplinary event to be presented on the closing day of the season.

“On three consecutive Saturdays we’ll be meeting to create our own Vanished Kingdom – an imaginary borderland with its own culture, geography, history, language… All devised by you. If you’re a visual artist, writer or performer, if you’re someone who wants to share ideas in a supportive and respectful environment, if you’re someone who enjoys playing and make believe, then join us and artists from the Marchland season to help make something truly unique. You are welcome to come and go as you please for the duration of each workshop, and even to just quietly observe the controlled chaos! It’s completely free to participate.

On the 3rd March, we’ll be presenting the audience with a free ‘Vanished Kingdom’ event featuring the stories, songs, dances, artwork, history, geography of a European borderland of our participants’ collective imagination. As an opener to the presentation, there’ll be another chance to hear a performance by Åkervinda (giving us their perspective on women’s history and cross border co-operation) plus a one-off set from three members of Sefiroth (Alex Roth, Alice Zawadzki & Olesya Zdorovetskay).

“Expect, perhaps, robust and lively debate about the tensions between regional identity and cross-cultural fertilisation, absurd flights of fancy and charming anecdotes, and a rich tapestry of differing viewpoints and traditions. Looking forward to meeting you at the crossroads!”

All events are at The Bridewell Theatre, 14 Bride Lane, Blackfriars, London EC4Y 8EQ, England. Dates are as follows.

Single concerts:

  • Carneval String Trio – Wednesday 7th & Wednesday 14th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Nikos Baroutsakis – Thursday 8th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Fran & Flora – Friday 9th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Friday 9th February 2018, 7:30pm; Tuesday 13th February 2018, 1:15pm; 16th February 2018, 1:15pm; 17th February 2018, 9:00pm
  • Bardos Band’s ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ – Monday 12th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Before and After Schengen – Thursday 15th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Sefiroth – Friday 16th February 2018, 7:30pm; Saturday 17th February 2018, 2:00pm; Friday 23rd February 2018, 7:30pm
  • Maiden in The Moor – Wednesday 28th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Åkervinda – Friday 2nd March 2018, 1:15 pm

Double-bill concerts:

  • Nikos Baroutsakis + Fran & Flora – Saturday 10th February 2018, 2:00pm
  • Bardos Band’s ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ + KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Saturday 10th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • ‘Before and After Schengen’ + KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Alex Batesmith’s ‘Blackbirds and Blue Helmets’ + Fran & Flora – Tuesday 20th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Maiden in the Moor + Sefiroth – Thursday 22nd February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Åkervinda + Maiden in The Moor – Thursday 1st March 2018, 7:30 pm

‘A Vanished Kingdom’:

  • Free-entry workshops – Saturday 10th February 2018, 9.30am; Saturday 24th Feburary 2018, 2.00pm, Saturday 3rd March 2018, 10.00am
  • Presentation concert (plus pre-concert performances by Åkervinda + Alex Roth/Alice Zawadzki/Olesya Zdorovetskaya) – Saturday 3rd March 2018, 2:00 pm


All further details at the festival website, the Marchland Facebook page and the Bridewell event pages, with blogging here throughout the course of the season.
 

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