Tag Archives: Huw Watkins

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.


 
* * * * * * * *

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.


 

October 2016 – upcoming classical gigs – Helen Grime Day at Wigmore Hall in London (15th), Cariolan Trio + Adam Brown at Conway Hall in London (30th); plus Ligeti Quartet in Little Missenden, London and Aberdeenshire (16th, 17th, 30th)

10 Oct

Helen Grime Day @ Wigmore Hall, 15th October 2016

Helen Grime Day
Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England
Saturday 15th October 2016, 1.00pm/6.00pm/7.30pm
information

Wigmore Hall is devoting a whole day to the work of Scottish composer Helen Grime, who’s about to begin her term as the Hall’s first female composer-in-residence for the 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 seasons.

An hour-long early afternoon concert will be entirely devoted to Helen’s chamber music, played by a five-piece ensemble of strings, oboe and piano. There’ll be two sets of instrumental works originally inspired by fine art minatures – ‘Three Whistler Miniatures’ (triggered by Helen’s encounter with James Whistler’s chalk and pastel drawings in Boston’s Isabella Stewart Museum) and ‘Aviary Sketches’, influenced by the mysterious ‘assemblage boxes’ of American artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell. There’ll also be performances of Helen’s ‘Oboe Quartet’, and her string duo ‘To See The Summer Sky’, plus the British premiere of the piano and oboe duo ‘Five North Eastern Scenes’. (Here’s a version of the Whistler piece…)


 
In the evening, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and conductor Geoffrey Paterson will take over the hall for a double triptych of music by Helen and her influences.

From the press release: “Helen Grime’s ‘Seven Pierrot Miniatures’ (NB – a companion piece to Schoenberg’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’) project the composer’s uncanny feeling for instrumental tone colours and textural contrasts, whilst her ‘Clarinet Concerto’ (to be played by soloist Mark van de Wiel) is a study in virtuosity that grows more meditative as it unfolds. Oliver Knussen and Elliott Carter have been formative influences in Grime’s career; her duo ‘Embrace’ picks up the duos in Knussen’s delightful ‘Songs without Voices’, and the Carter duo, written for Knussen’s 50th birthday, mirrors this.” There’ll also be a performance of Leoš Janáček’s woodland fantasy ‘Concertino’.

There are two takes on two of those Grime pieces below:



 
In between the concerts, at 6.00pm, Helen will give a forty-five minute talk.

Performers:

Alexandra Wood – violin (afternoon concert)
Rachel Roberts – viola (afternoon concert)
Philip Higham – cello (afternoon concert)
Nicholas Daniel – oboe (afternoon concert)
Huw Watkins – piano (afternoon concert)
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group – ensemble (evening concert)
Mark van de Wiel – clarinet (evening concert)
Geoffrey Paterson – conductor (evening concert)

Programme:

(morning concert:)

Helen Grime – Three Whistler Miniatures (for piano, violin & cello)
Helen Grime – Aviary Sketches (after Joseph Cornell) (for violin, viola & cello)
Helen Grime – To see the summer sky (for violin & viola)
Helen Grime – Five North Eastern Scenes (for oboe & piano) (UK première)
Helen Grime – Oboe Quartet (for oboe, violin, viola & cello)

(evening concert:)

Helen Grime – Embrace (for Bb clarinet & C trumpet)
Helen Grime – Seven Pierrot Miniatures (for piccolo, bass clarinet, piano, viola & voice)
Oliver Knussen – Songs without Voices Op. 26 (for flute, cor anglais, clarinet, horn, piano and string trio )
Helen Grime – Clarinet Concerto (for clarinet, piccolo, contrabassoon, harp & strings)
Elliott Carter – Au Quai (for bassoon and viola)
Helen Grime – Luna (for piccolo, oboe/clarinet, E-flat clarinet, horn, percussion & piano)
Leoš Janáček – Concertino (for piano, two violins, viola, clarinet, French horn and bassoon )

Incidentally, Helen has recently announced her first new work as part of the residency, which will be a piano concerto for Huw Watkins and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. This will be premiered at the hall in March 2017. In the meantime, here’s a dip into yet another Grimes piece (her acclaimed orchestral work ‘Near Midnight’, which already seems to be working its way into the repertoire…)


 
* * * * * * * *

If you’re interested in hearing Helen’s ‘Aviary Sketches’ twice in one month, the The Coriolan String Trio are including it in their Conway Hall concert a couple of weeks after Helen Grimes Day, sandwiched in between two pieces of established classical repertoire…

promo-cariolan-trio

Conway Hall Sunday Concerts presents:
Coriolan String Trio + Adam Brown
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1R 4RL, London
Sunday 30th October 2016, 5:30 pm
information

From the Conway Hall publicity mailshot – “The Coriolan String Trio combines the forces of chamber musicians from two renowned chamber groups, with a thirst for exploring and expanding on the repertoire for String Trio. As founding members of the Finzi String Quartet, viola player Ruth Gibson and violinist Sara Wolstenholme performed internationally, broadcast and recorded together until 2012. Until 2012, Robin Michael was cellist in the critically acclaimed Fidelio Trio for over ten years, with an extensive discography and premiering over a hundred new works for the genre. Since first meeting in 2013, all three have enjoyed collaborating through Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival and projects at Kings Place, London.”

Programme:

Ludwig van Beethoven – String Trio in G Op.9/1
Helen Grime – Aviary Sketches (after Joseph Cornell)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Divertimento in E flat K563

As a bonus, “at a pre-concert recital at 5.30pm, guitarist Adam Brown will perform solo, presenting varied dance forms from across Latin America. Performed works will be recorded on a forthcoming album that will include dynamic new arrangements and exciting first recordings.” No extra details on that, but here’s Adam performing a take on a Jimmy van Heusen classic…


 

* * * * * * **

In between the previous two shows, The Ligeti Quartet are touring their interesting ‘Fellow Travellers’ programme at a couple of English venues.

From the Forge website:

“The Ligeti Quartet – consisting of violinists Mandira de Saram and Patrick Dawkins, viola player Richard Jones and cellist Val Welbanks – is dedicated to performing modern and contemporary music, commissioning new works, and engaging a diverse audience. Formed in 2010, they were united by their fascination with the music of György Ligeti, and have since established a reputation as leading exponents of new music.

“The title of this programme and the opening piece, ‘Fellow Traveler’, suggest socio-political and Cold War connotations. The pieces of music you will hear at this concert refer in various ways to tensions and freedom, unity through eclecticism – relevant themes in the month before the US presidential election. The concert is built around two major works by Samuel Barber and Dmitri Shostakovich, contemporaries who in this programme represent classics of the mid-20th century USA and USSR. Their music was related in language but written under very different circumstances; Barber composed his quartet in the prime of his life, buoyed by the artistic perks of The New Deal; Shostakovich wrote of his fear of mortality, in the grips of terminal illness and under Soviet scrutiny.”

The concert also includes quartet works by the polystylistic pioneer Alfred Schnittke, the polymathic jazz-and-classical composer John Zorn (from a set of intricate, witty compositions inspired by the rules and forms of sadomasochism), and the premiere of a new Duke Ellington-inspired quartet composed by another jazz musician, Laura Jurd (who’s also on tour this month).

Programme:

John Adams – Fellow Traveler
Alfred Schnittke – String Quartet No. 3
Samuel Barber – String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11
John Zorn – Cat O’Nine Tails
Laura Jurd – Jump Cut Shuffle (world premiere)
Dmitri Shostakovich – String Quartet No. 13, op. 138

Here are takes on moste of those pieces:





 
Dates:

In addition, the Quartet will be playing another show at the end of the month, in Aberdeenshire (as part of the ongoing Scotland-wide Sound Festival). This show will feature a different set, although one which illustrates the Quartet’s interests and preoccupations with modern and twentieth-century music.

Sound Festival presents:
The Ligeti Quartet
Woodend Barn, Banchory, AB31 5QA, Scotland
Sunday 30th October 2016, 7.00pm
information

Programme:

György Kurtág – Six Moments Musicaux, op, 44
Béla Bartok – String Quartet No. 5
Iannis Xenakis – Tetras
György Ligeti – String Quartet No. 1 (Métamorphoses nocturnes)

(Again, here’s some playthroughs of most of those pieces by various folk…)




 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – Project Instrumental’s 21st century string quartets and Julian Dawes’ Passover cantata in London: Britten Sinfonia tours Bartok, Schumann and a new Bryce Dessner work across the east of England.

29 Mar

On the first day of April, Project Instrumental offer another performance of their current twenty-first century string quartet programme:

Project Instrumental, 2016

Late Shift @ NPG presents:
Project Instrumental
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, Westminster, London, WC2H 0HE, England
Friday 1st April 2016, 6.30 pm
– free event – more information

“Described as “simply knockout” (Alex Julyan, Wellcome Trust Fellow) and selected as a Time Out London Critic’s Choice, Project Instrumental brings thrilling performances to unbounded audiences. Instrument-inspired, rather than genre-led, the group evolves around a core of strings and what can be done with them, across genres and instrumental combinations, to create truly enlivening performances, for anyone. Bold, imaginative and boundary defying, this virtuosic group strips back the peripherals with their straightforward contemporary approach to, to create not just concerts, but experiences.”

Programme:

Thomas Seltz: String Quartet No.1
Joby Talbot: String Quartet No.2
Nico Muhly: Diacritical Marks

This concert is, for the most part, a repeat performance of Project Instrumental’s late February free appearance at the Southbank Centre. I’ll just requote from the preview that I wrote at the time:

“Though Project Instrumental haven’t made this explicit, all of the contemporary classical composers whose quartets are being played either originally stem from, or confidently dip into, a broad field of popular music. Nico Muhly has long been a byword for latterday classical/pop crossovers, balancing operas and contemporary music ensemble commissions with arrangements and co-writes for Grizzly Bear, Björk, Antony and the Johnsons and Philip Glass. Joby Talbot spent nine years playing on and expanding Neil Hannon’s chamber-pop songs for The Divine Comedy before moving on to a diverse compositional career of ballets, concerti, orchestral and choral works and madrigals (while still doing film scores and arrangement works relating to pop, such as his reworking of songs by The White Stripes for choreographer Wayne McGregor). Thomas Seltz, spent his teenage years recording and touring as a rock guitarist and songwriter with French rock bands (most notably TORO) before making the shift to classical composition at the University of Edinburgh from 2006. Since then, he’s maintained his interest in the classical/popular faultline, writing an electric bass guitar concerto (for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and John Patitucci), ‘Awesome X’ (a comic opera about reality TV) and ‘Mandarin’ (a concerto written for Chinese erhu player Peng Yueqiang and Edinburgh crossover-chamber ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber).


 

All four composers refuse to be pigeonholed either by their established classical reputations or by their current or past roots/impingements upon pop and rock, seeing it all as a set of disciplines between which they can step as they choose. Seltz’s quartet (completed only last year) documents and honours his musical history, in particular his transition from rock musician to contemporary composer, via rock-inspired “strong dynamic, rhythmic and melodic elements”. Talbot’s possesses a wheeling dovelike softness in its graceful minimal approach, while Dessner’s takes tips from Reich, Adams and Glass but explodes them with a hoedown vigour. Sidestepping his confessed anxieties regarding the emotional exposure of the form, Muhly’s is bookended by an emphasis on lively ticking mechanisms and accents, counterbalanced by a more rhapsodic (and possibly concealing) middle section.”

* * * * * * * *

Back during the February performance, the Project Instrumental string quartet performance had an additional piece in the programme – ‘Tenebre’, written by Bryce Dessner, who divides his time between playing and composing for rock group The National and working the classical music and high-art world: curating Cleveland’s MusicNOW New Music festival, performing as part of classical improvisers Clogs and generating a large number of pieces for assorted classical ensembles. Although Project Instrumental might not be playing his work this month, a new Dessner composition is the centrepiece of the latest Britten Sinfonia At Lunch tour, which is on the road a little later in the month:

Britten Sinfonia presents ‘At Lunch Four’

Bryce Dessner (photo by Shervin Lainez)

Bryce Dessner (photo by Shervin Lainez)

Programme:

Béla Bartók – Selection of Duos
Bryce Dessner – EL Chan (world premiere tour)
Robert Schumann – Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op.47

Performers:

Thomas Gould (violin)
Clare Finnimore (viola)
Caroline Dearnley (cello)
Huw Watkins (piano)

“Bryce Dessner, known to many as the guitarist from The National, has been leading a double life as a prolific composer and curator in the realm of creative new music. His music, marked by a keen sensitivity to instrumental colour and texture, features in this hour-long programme alongside Bartok’s folklore-inspired pedagogical Duos and Schumann’s ever-popular Piano Quartet.”

The London gig includes a pre-concert discussion between Bryce Dessner and Dr Kate Kennedy at 12.15pm (free, but places must be booked in advance); the Cambridge gig includes a 2.15pm post-concert discussion led by a member of the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Music (free to ticket holders). More information here.

* * * * * * * *

At around the same time, London sees the premiere of a new work by British composer Julian Dawes (who recently had a retrospective concert of his work performed at The Forge). As with much of Julian’s work, it draws on Jewish themes and is performed by several outstanding British-Jewish musicians: in addition, it’s being performed at one of London’s most culturally-enthused and artistically open synagogues:


New London Synagogue presents:
Julian Dawes: ‘Pesach Cantata’
New London Synagogue, 33 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London, NW8 0AT, England
Sunday 10th April 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Pesach Cantata, 2016Set from a libretto by Rabbi Roderick Young, ‘Pesach Cantata’ is a new cantata for soloists, chorus and chamber ensemble in which the story of Pesach (Passover) is told by a grandfather to his grandchild, and which includes three other characters, Miriam, Aaron and Rabban Gamliel.

Performers:

Cantor Jason Green – Grandfather
Z’ev Green – Grandchild
Martha Jones – Miriam
Mark Nathan – Aaron
Julien Van Mellaerts – Rabban Gamliel
The New London Singers
The New London Chamber Ensemble
Vivienne Bellos – conductor

There’s a short ‘Pesach’ excerpt below:


 

* * * * * * * *

Coming up – news on the first Facemelter of the month, and more…
 

Jane Manning curates Voiceworks – two London concerts of contemporary classical song

21 Jun

For anyone who’s interested in contemporary classical song, here are details on two London afternoon concerts taking place this week and next week…

event-201506janemanningvoiceworks

Voiceworks Song Recitals: 
Concert 1 – St Olave Hart Street, 8 Hart Street, London, EC3R 7NB, UK, Thursday 25th June, 1.05pm
Concert 2 – St Stephen Walbrook, 39 Walbrook, London, EC4N 8BN, UK, Tuesday 30th June, 1.05pm

Senior Guildhall School of Music musicians are giving free lunchtime concerts in churches across the City as part of the City of London Festival 2015. In the Voiceworks concerts, postgraduate singers and pianists perform in two programmes of twentieth & twenty-first century repertoire curated by soprano Jane Manning (in conjunction with ‘New Vocal Repertory For The 21st Century’, her forthcoming book for Oxford University Press).

Songs to be performed include repertoire by Alison Bauld (both concerts); Joseph Horovitz, Cecilia McDowall and John McLeod, Edward Nesbit, Anthony Payne and Thierry Pecou (concert 1); Sebastian Currier, Lori Laitman, Anthony Milner, Mel Powell, Malcolm Singer and Huw Watkins (concert 2).

Performers:

(Concert 1:)

Holly-Marie Bingham – mezzo-soprano
Sarah Killian – soprano
Jean-Max Latteman – countertenor
Juliane Gallant, Michelle Santiago, Dylan Perez – piano

(Concert 2:)

Genevieve Colletta, Joana Gil – soprano
James Robinson – tenor
Michelle Santiago, Natalie Burch – piano

More information is here for concert 1 and here for concert 2.

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