Tag Archives: music for string quartet

March 2017 – upcoming London classical/classical-experimental gigs, (7th, 16th, 17th) – Kammer Klang (with Klara Lewis/Nik Colk Void, Christopher Redgate, Phaedra Ensemble performing Leo Chadburn and John Uren); Tomos Xerri & Claire Wickes’ rush-hour duets (with a new Liam Mattison piece); Elisabeth Turmo & Elena Toponogova’s Norwegian/Russian celebration

1 Mar

As well as composers ranging from Grieg to Takemitsu, these three upcoming London gigs take in trolls, moths, David Bowie, extended fiddles and oboes, and just a tiny hint of saw abuse. Let’s have a look and listen.

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Kammer Klang, 7th March 2017Kammer Klang presents:
Klara Lewis + Phaedra Ensemble (performing Leo Chadburn) + Christopher Redgate + John Uren + Holodisc DJs
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 7th March 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

From the Kammerers (supplemented by a few text raids from here and there)…

“In our second show of 2017 we are joined by Klara Lewis, the critically acclaimed sound sculptress who has performed in clubs and art galleries around the world. Lewis builds her work from heavily manipulated samples and field recordings, creating a unique combination of the organic and the digital. Klara’s second album ‘Too’ was released in 2016 on Editions Mego to great acclaim. She will be performing with Nik Colk Void, an experimental electronic recording artist who is one part of Factory Floor (an alliance with Gabriel Gurnsey) and one-third of Carter Tutti Void (with former Throbbing Gristle members Cosey Fanny Tutti and Chris Carter). Coming from an English art school background, and an education that was decidedly non-musical in nature, Nik’s work is as conceptual as it is visceral – exploring the out-regions of pushing and manipulating sound (via modular synthesis, extended guitar techniques and vocal processing), and collaborating with contemporary visual artists such as Haroon Mirza and Philippe Parreno.



 
“We are also joined by Phaedra Ensemble, whose performances explore the spaces between classical, experimental and contemporary music. Phaedra brings together some of London’s most exciting musicians to curate programmes with new collaborations, reinterpretations of well-known modern works and forgotten classics. Its members have a strong intuition for genre-crossing and interdisciplinary work, often in collaboration with artists from other disciplines. This month Phaedra will perform ‘The Indistinguishables’, a 2014 string-quartet-and-electronics work by Leo Chadburn. Leo is a composer and performer of experimental and electronic music, gallery music and (as Simon Bookish) avant-pop. ‘The Indistinguishables’ works through a cycle of seventy names of UK moth species, each accompanied by a chord or phrase, like a fleeting soundtrack to these evocative words. The recordings are triggered by the quartet, so the pacing of the pauses and resonances is under their control, part of their ensemble dynamic.


 
“Phaedra will also be performing this month’s “Fresh Klang” work, which is from British composer John Uren. ‘A few weeks after David Bowie’s death in January 2016, Dr Mark Taubert, a palliative care doctor based in Cardiff, wrote an open letter to Bowie, posthumously thanking him for the soundtrack he had provided to his life, his dedication to his art, and the inspiration he was, and continues to be, for others also facing end-of-life illnesses. Retweeted by Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, Mark’s letter has gone on to have a huge impact, and has been recited at several Letters Live events by Jarvis Cocker and Benedict Cumberbatch. John collaborated with Mark for this composition, combining a recording of Mark reading his own beautiful letter with fragile strings and electronic timbres; acting as a cushion for Mark’s words to drift across.


 
“The distinguished oboeist Christopher Redgate will perform his own work ‘Multiphonia’. Since his time as a student at the Royal Academy of Music, he has specialised in the performance of contemporary oboe music. Now the Evelyn Barbirolli Research Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, Christopher (in collaboration with Howarth of London) has redesigned the instrument. He performs exclusively on his creation, the Howarth-Redgate 21st Century Oboe, which offers extended capability for twenty-first-century music including microtones, multiphonics, extended range and electronics.

“There will also be DJ sets from the people behind British experimental music label Holodisc.”

Programme:

Fresh Klang: John Uren – Her Own Dying Moments (performed by Phaedra Ensemble)
Leo Chadburn – The Indistinguishables (performed by Phaedra Ensemble)
Christopher Redgate – Multiphonia (for solo oboe)
Klara Lewis + Nik Colk Void – improvised set

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South and slightly west, here are a couple of interesting-looking duo shows at the 1901 Club in Waterloo – picked out from the rest of the venue’s busy schedule by dint of having interesting instrumentation, interesting juxtapositions, or the promise of new pieces being premiered.

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Tomos Xerri, 2017Hattori Foundation presents:
Hattori Foundation Rush-Hour Recital: Tomos Xerri & Claire Wickes
1901 Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE, England
Thursday 16th March 2017, 6.00pm
information

Outstanding contemporary harpist and Riot Ensemble member Tomos Xerri performs regular duet concerts with English National Opera’s principal flautist Claire Wickes (who also plays as guest principal with most of the big London orchestras, as well as the São Paulo Symphony). Here’s one of those shows – one of the Hattori Foundation’s showcase concerts, nicely timed for the Waterloo homeward-bounders.

Claire Wickes, 2017

While Claire and Tomos will be playing a set of established pieces by Takemitsu, Debussy, Piazzolla and American tonal hero Lowell Liebermann (as well as a sonata by the distinguished twentieth-century British polymath William Alwyn), they are both strong enthusiasts for contemporary music, and are premiering a new composition by Trinity Laban alumnus Liam Mattison (a recent partipant in the LSO’s Panufnik Composers Scheme).

Look out, too, for any mention of Tomas’ upcoming musical-saw-and-electronics project… which at the moment seems to be more of a tingling promise than anything concrete. If any more evidence shows up, I’ll blog it myself.

Programme:

Astor Piazzolla – Bordel 1900 (from Histoire du Tango)
Lowell Liebermann – Sonata for Flute & Harp
Claude Debussy – La Chevelure (from Trois Chansons de Bilitis), Nuit D’Étoiles
Tōru Takemitsu – Toward the Sea III
Liam Mattison – new commission
William Alwyn – Naiades (Fantasy-Sonata)

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Elisabeth Turmo, 20171901 Club presents:
Elisabeth Turmo & Elena Toponogova: “Two Journeys”
1901 Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE, England
Friday 17th March 2017, 6.30pm
information

This is a musical celebration of two cultures, Norwegian and Russian, performed by Norwegian violinist Elisabeth Turmo and Siberian pianist Elena Toponogova. Both are recent or imminent Masters graduates from the Royal College of Music, with growing international reputations. Elizabeth has performed as a soloist with the Arctic Philharmonic, the Oslo Chamber Orchestra, the Toppen International Festival Orchestra and the Barratt Due Symphony Orchestra; while Elena has performed as a chamber musician and soloist across the United Kingdom, Russia and Germany.

Elena Tonogova, 2017Already tagged as “conveying the stormful temperament of a northern Norwegian” in her concert performances, Elisabeth is also an up-and-coming exponent of the hardingfele, or “Hardanger fiddle” – the thin-wooded Norwegian violin with additional sympathetic strings which is traditionally used for folk dances and church processionals, and which bridges the gap between Norway’s ecclesiastical life and its supernatural mythology (by way of “troll-tunings” and Robert Johnson-esque myths about music lessons from the Devil).

Several hardingfele pieces will be performed as part of the concert set. I doubt that these will include a solo arrangement of Michael Grolid’s recent ‘Ouverture’ (as played here two years ago by Elizabeth and Barratt Due’s Symphony Orchestra) but I’ve included it in lieu of her having posted up any other recordings with the instrument.


 
Programme:

Ole Bull – A Mountain Vision
Selected pieces for hardingfele
Bjarne Brustad – Fairy-tail for violin (solo)
Edvard Grieg – Solveig’s Song (from the ‘Peer Gynt’ suite)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Melody for violin and piano Op.42 No.3
Nikolai Medtner – Sonata Reminiscenza Op.38 (from ‘Forgotten Melodies’
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – (arr. Mikhail Pletnev ) – Intermezzo (from ‘The Nutcracker Suite’)
Igor Frolov (from George Gershwin) – Concert Fantasy on Themes from ‘Porgy and Bess’
 

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…)


 
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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…


 

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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…)




 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – London end-of-month assortment – Project Instrumental play string quartets for free; Eddie Parker’s Mister Vertigo ascends again; an even more diverse Daylight Music than usual (with Stick In The Wheel, No Cars and Alabaster dePlume)

24 Feb

Two shows coming up on the Friday…

Project Instrumental, 2016

Friday Tonic presents:
Project Instrumental
Central Bar @ Royal Festival Hall @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Friday 26th February 2016, 5.30pm
– free event – more information

“Making its Southbank Centre debut in quartet form, players from Project Instrumental invite you to greet Friday evening sipping on the sonorities of some 21st-century string quartets. 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
Bryce Dessner: Tenebre

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). Bryce Dessner is still best known as half of the guitar/compositional team for Brooklyn indie-rock darlings The National, but balances this against a powerfully prolific output of orchestral, percussion, film and installation-based instrumental works, as well as classical improvisation with the Clogs quintet and work curating Cleveland’s MusicNOW New Music festival for ten years.

Even the most obscure of the four, 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.



 

It seems as if this Project Instrumental set (or most of it) will be repeated at a National Portrait Gallery Late Shift appearance on April 1st (PI have been performing versions of it since at least last November). I’ll repost details closer to the time. Also in April, look out for a Britten Sinfonia mini-tour featuring a Bryce Dessner premiere.

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Eddie Parker, 2016

Eddie Parker’s Mister Vertigo
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Friday 26th February 2016, 8.00pm
– more information

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve been crossing paths with Eddie Parker on record, in concert and (on a few occasions) in person. Back in the ‘80s he was a key member of the raucous, expansive yet deceptively deep-thinking jazz band Loose Tubes, holding his own as both player and composer alongside Django Bates, Steve Berry, Chris Batchelor and many others who went on to shape both pre-millennial British jazz and what came afterwards. While Loose Tubes may always be Eddie’s best-known gig (he also went on to play and write in the sequel band Delightful Precipice), like most jazz musicians he has form elsewhere; having worked as part of John Stevens’ Freebop and as an outstanding soloist and collaborator in the band of South African pianist Bheki Mseleku, as well as leading various groups including the “quartet of twenty instruments” Twittering Machine. In all of these projects, he’s known predominantly for the assured brilliance of his flute playing. Elegant and assertive, full-toned and flexible without ever being forced, it’s an expression of a supple mind-muscle which can shape-shift from tripping lightness to pooling shade in a single graceful motion.

Eddie should, however, be at least as well regarded for his skill as an all-in composer. Drawn from his early training in avant-garde classical, fleshed out by his immersion in jazz, and characterized by both an egalitarian ethos and a sophisticated-magpie taste for eclectic listening, his compositions draw on a vast array of ideas, influences and traditions. Around jazz touchstones such as Gil Evans, Mahavishnu, Eric Dolphy and Weather Report swim disparate seasonings and elements – South Africa, Stravinsky and Debussy; Elizabethan chamber music; salsa and progressive rock; mantras and mediaevalism; Bartok, Berg, Berio and Brazilian – but never in a mere showy and dyspeptic jam of ideas.

Many composers (jazz or otherwise) turn out music which seems to be disassociated from their day-to-day personality, or which is at least canted towards a slightly different space or a stand-alone ideal. This is not the case with Eddie. His tunes and arrangements are a clear reflection of the man himself – by turns committed, kind, cheeky, bucolic and fiery; all with a glittering riverine current of lively intelligence and an eye on the small details of the world. He’s also pretty lucid as regards talking about them – his own blog comments on early and recent material that he’s written for Loose Tubes are well worth reading.

These skills haven’t gone unrecognised, and commissions for Eddie from the Apollo Saxophone Quartet and Ensemble Bash are just part of it: but there’s also been immensely valuable community composing, promotion and guidance work from Eddie, such as his efforts with with Impro Integrated and his ongoing children’s educational project Groove On. His 2001 endeavour ‘People Symphony’ picked up on the human and cultural complexity of London, sprawling via public performance and collective practise across four London boroughs and thirty pro musicians plus students of all ages, abilities and disabilities, joining in a rich stew of Indian, Brazilian, African and Turkish-inspired music mingled with jazz, rock and pop. All of this is memorable – still, in the process of digging up information for this news post, it struck me how little information on it survives. Perhaps much of Eddie’s work is like most jazz performances – a collision of opportunity and uniqueness tied to a particular time and place, a particular coming-together of people which (especially on a good night) results in a grand flare of cooperation and shared memory, echoing on in the minds and the rolled-out histories of those who were there, but forever unknown to everyone who was outside that room on that night. Maybe there’s something precious in that, but I can’t help but feel that there should be more memory, more awareness… a fuller appreciation of what’s gone down and soared up.

Rather than go on in this vein, instead I’ll be a little more positive and draw the attention to Eddie’s longest-running concern: his Mister Vertigo sextet, who play in London this weekend. Eddie’s longterm cohorts Steve Watts (double bass, another Loose Tuber), Julian Nicholas (saxophone) and Mike Pickering (drums) have been in the band since its mid-‘90s inception, while the newest recruits are up-and-coming guitarist Rob Luft (replacing John Parricelli) and pianist Matt Robinson, who follows in the footsteps of Troyka’s Kit Downes and the band’s long-standing original piano maverick Pete Saberton (who died in 2012). As a unit, Mister Vertigo is a light-footed, easily accessible ensemble whose apparent breeziness subtly disguises the opportunity to experience Eddie’s compositional work up close and intimate. Expect fine playing, a warm chamber of illuminated discourse and wide-ranging thought.

Embeddable examples of Eddie’s work are thin on the ground, but here’s a brief video of Mister Vertigo in action (albeit with Eddie leading from keyboard rather than flute) plus a Debussy-inspired piano piece from Groove Music…



 

Incidentally, Eddie’s occasional keyboard work has developed into a fuller occupation in recent years, due not least to his work as one of a battalion of keyboard players in the vintage analogue synth group The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, for which he also composes. He’s just released an album of synth compositions called ‘The Exoplanets Suite’, which will be launched at the Mister Vertigo gig (copies should be available there for about £12.00, but can also be ordered via Eddie’s Facebook page).

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The following evening, there’s a Daylight Music afternoon with no particular theme… or, to put it another, an afternoon of their own free eclectica.

Daylight Music 217, 27th February 2016

Daylight Music presents:
Daylight 217: Stick In The Wheel + No Cars + Alabaster dePlume
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 27th February 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (£5.00 donation suggested) – more information

Stick In The Wheel are a folk band from East London. Championed by John Kennedy (Radio X/Mercury judge) and fresh from winning fRoots Magazine’s 2015 Album of the Year, they’re “ripping apart the preconceptions surrounding folk music to retrieve the tender, beating heart at the centre of traditional English culture” (CLASH Music) – as the band themselves put it, “this is our culture, our tradition.”

No Cars is a Japanese pop band formed and based in Hackney, London UK – a mixture of rock, garage, gipsy, swing, jazz, calypso, punk, Punjabi etc. with a Japanese pop twist.

 

Alabaster dePlume (Gus Fairbairn), is a performer, writer and musician. Since 2011 he has produced three albums on Manchester label Debt Records, toured Europe as a solo performer, produced short films, and written/performed a play with circus-aerial in Dublin. He has also presented a series of combined-arts events, and his recordings are played on national radio, most recently described as “cheerfully uneasy” on Radio 3.

Joel Clayton – from Indo-Anglo folk-fusioneers (and unlikely steampunk-scene heroes) Sunday Driver, and sometimes known as trappedanimal – joins us on sitar in our fourth/in-between slot this week.

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News on March concerts coming up shortly…
 

January 2016 – upcoming gigs – Kiran Leonard’s UK mini-tour; Laura Cannell plays Liverpool, Glasgow and Bradford (with In Atoms, Jozef van Wissem, Magpahi and Stephanie Hladowski); in London, a Julian Dawes fundraiser at The Forge and an Ichi show at the Harrison; in New York, Legs play the Manhattan Inn and Rough Trade NYC with Blank Paper, Tropic Of Pisces and SKP (Lip Talk, Cosmicide). And Tom Slatter doesn’t play Brighton, yet…

10 Jan

Born in Oldham, currently Saddleworth-based, but occupying a wayward and exciting multi-instrumental/multi-genre orbit (which takes in, among many others, Todd Rundgren, spangled electronica, Dirty Projectors, Van Morrison and Nancy Chodorow) teenage wunderkind turned twenty-year-old psych-pop pioneer Kiran Leonard embarks on a quick British tour this coming week. For a sampling of what’s on offer, have a listen to Kiran’s most recent single, which examines the panicked, unwilling misogyny of pubescent boys and uses it as a launchpad for sixteen minutes of charging, spontaneous-sounding twist-and-turn musical quest. Spattered with snippets of radio, cut’n’paste ADHD changes and lo-fi turnarounds, it sounds like Lou Reed and Jim O’Rourke grappling over the steering wheel of a gawky teenage Yes.

For the tour, Kiran’s four-piece band features three other flexible Manchester music luminaries. Guitarist Dan Bridgewood Hill also plays as dbh and with NASDAQ, Irma Vep Band and Seatoller), bass player Dave Rowe is from Plank and Andrew Cheetham drums with acts including Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura, Easter, Butcher The Bar, the Birchall/Cheetham Duo and experimental rock duo Yerba Mansa. Support across the dates comes, variously, from Yerba Mansa, introverted Manchester singer-songwriter Tom Settle, Marc Rooney (taking a solo break from his usual band, Glaswegian “past post-modern bug-eyed beatniks” Pronto Mama), Edinburgh rock juveniles Redolent and inventive Sussex girl duo Let’s Eat Grandma.

Something of what to expect from the support bands is below:




This gig info was added to the top of this post at the last minute, and these gigs are selling out fast, so move quickly.

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The past week’s death of Pierre Boulez cast an overwhelming shadow over the classical and avant-garde worlds. Under that pall, it’s easy to forget that breed of composers that the post-war work of Boulez and his acolytes sometimes eclipsed – working at a humbler altitude, often inclined to traditional tonalism and craftsmanship and generally writing for the vast and undersung body of working musicians and small regional music groups, their work’s left out of the big conversations. It may break fewer boundaries, or no boundaries at all, but (to my mind, at least) it doesn’t necessarily have a lesser value. Not only does it often demonstrate an empathy for the musician over the concept, it demonstrates music’s quality of constant giving, showing that the older schemes which a younger and more intemperate Boulez once dismissed as being played out are anything but: revealing an ever-renewing, ever-fertile grain to be worked with and against even in well-mined territories.

To my ears, the work of Julian Dawes fits into this category. Five decades of his composing has produced chamber and keyboard music, theatre compositions, youth pieces, assorted works on Jewish themes (including Kaddish songs, Exodus cantatas and Holocaust pieces) plus an acclaimed mandolin concerto. All of it displays a lambent, empathetic feel for subject, performer and musician; and this coming Wednesday sees some of it compiled for a dedicated concert in London.

A Concert of Commemorative Music by Julian Dawes  (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Wednesday 13th January 2016, 7.30pm) – £9.00 to £12.00 – information & tickets

This is an evening of music which Julian has written to celebrate people and events. The night is also in memory of Emma Daly, and the proceeds of the concert will go to the Rosewood Chemo Ward at the Darenth Valley Hospital.

Programme:

Love Life and Lyric (for soprano and piano)
Reflection on Psalm 43 (for piano) – first concert performance
Homage (for string quartet)
Wedding Song (Louisa) (for soprano, violin & piano) – world premiere
Piano Sonata – world premiere
Bagatelle for a Wedding (for string quartet)
Songs from ‘The Song of Solomon’ (for mezzo soprano, tenor & piano)
String Quartet (slow movement)
Sonata for Violin and Piano

Performers:

The Holywell String Quartet
Vivienne Bellos, Helena Massip (sopranos)
Camille Maalawy (mezzo soprano)
Cantor Jason Green (tenor)
Sophie Lockett, Louisa Stuber (violins)
Mitra Alice Tham, Stephen Dickinson, Andrew Gellert, Alex Knapp, Julian Dawes (piano)

Soundclips of Julian Dawes’ music on the web are few and far between, but I’ve managed to dredge up these two videos – one of Cantor Jason Green performing one of Julian’s vocal pieces, and a low-key one of Julian talking about his work (on behalf of the publishing service Tutti). You can also listen to soundclips of some of his work at the page for Omnibus Classics’ release of his ‘Chamber Music’ CD.


Julian’s most recently completed project is ‘Pesach Cantata’ with a libretto by Roderick Young telling the story of Passover. This will be premiered at the New London Synagogue in April 2016: I’ll post about that closer to the time.

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There are a series of concerts coming up featuring East Anglian musician Laura Cannell. Playing a variety of instruments (predominantly straight or overbowed fiddle and double recorders, but also percussion and “other rarified wind instruments”, Laura fuses early and mediaeval music with a mixed ancient-and-modern approach to improvisation and to transcendent musical ceremony, taking fragments or inspirations from earlier sounds and melodies as the basis for exploration, illustration and linkages.


Laura will be playing up and down the country over the next few months at a variety of different events and locations, Each one has different musicians on the bill – Brooklyn-based Dutch lutenist and composer Josef van Wissem, who’s bringing the baroque lute out towards the worlds of experimental rock, folk and film; Liverpudlian tape-loop composer In Atoms whose “blissful and evocative” soundscapes and tones mix heath music and throbbing clubby sub-bass with the industrial and reveal him straddling Anglo-pastoralism and the European electronic grandeur of the Schultzes and Jarres; and two Yorkshire singers, Stephanie Hladowski (whose work stretches from reggae to traditional folk) and Magpahi (a.k.a. Todmorden based multi-instrumentalist Alison Cooper, who assembles a collage of folk song, fairy tale, Elizabethan poetry and dreamworld sonics from a variety of instruments and is inspired by “sepia stories, stray animals and recurring dreams of migration”).

Here’s the gig list, and something from each of Laura’s gigmates (including something quite rare from Magpani via the Was Is Das clubnight and promotions):





Laura has further gigs coming up later in the year, which I’ll also be posting about in due course.

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Born in Nagoya, (but now based in Bristol with his wife and collaborator, alt.folk singer Rachael Dadd) Ichi is paying London another visit with his truckload of invented instruments and mind-snagging riffs, digging a dayglo-lined tunnel between the avant-garde and a children’s playroom.

Ichi (The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, London, WC1H 8JF, UK, Saturday 23rd January 2016, 8.00pm) – £11.00 – informationtickets

From the Harrison’s blurb:

Ichi takes the notion of a one-man band to new limits, combining his quirky handmade instrument inventions (stilt-bass, kalilaphone, balloon-pipes, hatbox-pedal-drum, tapumpet, percussion-shoes & hat-trick-hat) with steel-drum, ping-pong balls, toys & everyday objects all in the space of one short set. Somehow there’s an ancient, ritualistic feel to his performances – he’s like the misplaced leader of a tribe. To see Ichi live is to witness something so playful and unusual you know that you’re experiencing something entirely new. It`s fun, it`s danceable, it`s exciting…. Also a practicing and exhibiting artist and film-maker, Ichi is usually seen with a cine camera in his hand, or his hands rooting through Bristol skips for materials for his musical and sculptural inventions, or his hands in the earth making human sized interactive earth xylophones as he did at Bristol`s Forage Festival.

And where words fail, there’s always the video to Ichi’s recent single Go Gagambo, “a song about mistaken identity (gagambo is an insect unfortunate enough to be mistaken as a big mosquito, resulting in probable death by angry clapping hands)”.


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I’d been hoping to bring you news of London acoustic steampunk-prog hero Tom Slatter playing Britain’s first actual steampunk bar (the recently opened Yellow Book, which is squirreled away in the Lanes of Brighton and claims to have been founded by time-travelling Victorians). Sadly not. Message just in – “This gig has been postponed. Don’t go there expecting to see me on the 23rd! Do go there if you want to see the venue, which is lovely. I will be playing at the Yellow Book in the near future. Watch this space.”

* * * * * * * *

Lastly, there are a couple of New York gigs (this week and towards the end of the month) by a ‘Misfit City’ favourite of recent years, Brooklyn-based groove-pop band Legs, who mix irresistible New Wave dance grooves with twitchy emotional neurosis and a verbose, occasional waspish Steely Dan-esque approach to songcraft under the double-keyboard licks.

Legs + SKP (Hypnocraft @ The Manhattan Inn, 632 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11222, USA, Monday 11th January 2016, 8.30pm) – free event (suggested $5.00-$10.00- information

This pay-what-you-like gig is a Legs headliner, at which they’re supported by SKP – a.k.a. Sarah Kyle, frontwoman of Brooklyn psychedelic pop band Lip Talk. Sarah is also a member of recent Interpol tourmates Cosmicide, which features most of Lip Talk plus ex-Secret Machines leader Brandon Curtis.


Blank Paper + Tropic Of Pisces + Legs (Rough Trade NYC, 64 N 9th Street, Brooklyn, New York, NY 11249, USA, Friday 22nd January 2016, 8.00pm) – information here and heretickets

This latter one’s a bottom-of-the-bill show for Legs. Swings and roundabouts, but they can play on both. At least they get to perform at Rough Trade (should be a natural audience booster) and they also get to act as warm-up and gig primer for two other stylish and eminently compatible Brooklyn acts. Keytar-wielding Blank Paper mix up classic hip hop rhythms, distant glimmering-city synthpop tones and vocals with just the right degree of hauteur for detached explorations of love and obsession sheathed in immaculate tunes. Tropic Of Pisces is the new project from Mon Khmer/Oberhofer sideman Mathew Scheiner – his geeky white-boy solo funk seems to be inspired equally by glam, hip hop and South African township jive, though he himself describes it as “a warm, magical place that you must be special enough to have found.” Judge for yourselves below via the videos, with their ninja noir and tinfoil chic.


* * * * * * * *

More gig news next time, including shows by Of Arrowe Hill and Earl Zinger with the Emanative & Collocutor Duo; plus an appearance by Sealionwoman.

January 2016 – upcoming gigs – Fortuna Pop Winter Sprinter and Repeater alt/indie/noisepop mini-festivals (and Hannah Marshall/Korbik Lucas playing a LUME slot) in London; Britten Sinfonia At Lunch across the east of England (with an Anna Clyne premiere); David Cohen and friends play magical-journey chamber music by Michael Nyman, Schubert and Gavin Higgins in Norwich

3 Jan

Happy New Year everyone. While I sort myself out, put the review of 2015 together and decide which approaches to take with ‘Misfit City’ this year, here’s what I know about so far in terms of January shows. A couple of mini-festivals of indie pop/garage rock/punk/noise rock and indie folk in London; a lunchtime mini-tour of chamber music in London and the east of England; an afternoon of free improvisation in a Kentish Town record shop; plus one more interesting classical concert in unusual surroundings up in Norwich.

* * * * * * * *

Several of the characters who showed up for the Arrivée/Départ II festival last month are also showing up for this next one: it’s a similar aesthetic, and involves many of the same musical and professional friendships.

Fortuna Pop Winter Sprinter, January 2016

The 6th Annual Fortuna POP! Winter Sprinter (2016) (The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England, Tuesday 5th to Friday 8th January 2016, various times) – £10.45 (or £32.70 for four-day pass) – informationtickets

It’s happening again… The 6th Annual Fortuna POP! Winter Sprinter 2016 is Go! Four nights, twelve bands, DJs… the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas blues with the creme de la creme of the Fortuna POP! roster – including former members of Broken Family Band and The Loves – plus special guests.

Tuesday 5th January – Steven James Adams + Simon Love + The Leaf Library plus DJ Paul Wright (The Track & Field Organisation).



Wednesday 6th January – Tigercats + Flowers + Chorusgirl plus DJ Paul Richards (Scared To Dance).



Thursday 7th January – Withered Hand (full band) + Evans The Death + Pete Astor, plus DJ Darren Hayman.



Friday 8th January – Martha + Milky Wimpshake + Bleurgh (a Blur covers band featuring members of Allo Darlin’‎, Fever Dream, Night Flowers and Tigercats) plus DJs Sandy Gill & Karren Gill (Stolen Wine Social Club Night).


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Overlapping the Winter Sprinter is something a little noisier, over in Shacklewell…

Repeater Festival, January 2016

Repeater Festival (Bad Vibrations @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England,
Thursday 7th to Saturday 9th January 2016, various times)
– free entry – information

To break in the new year, Bad Vibrations will be putting on a 3-day residency of free-entry gigs at The Shacklewell Arms featuring a selection of garage, noise-rock and indie-folk bands. People playing include Taman Shud, The Wharves, Strange Cages, Virgin Kids, The Eskimo Chain, Honey Moon, Lucifer’s Sun, Night Shades and St. Serf. The usual strip of soundclips and video is below.








 

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A recent trip to Norwich (still a prime ‘Misfit City’ stomping ground, partly thanks to all of those hometown Burning Shed concerts in the past decade or so) brought me into touch with the next set of gigs. The classical ensemble Britten Sinfonia has close links with the east of England and is honouring that with its At Lunch mini-tours, which swing in a loose arc between Norwich, Cambridge and London, bringing sturdy classical repertoire plus new premieres with them. Here’s information on the second of these tours (sorry, I missed the first one) which takes place mid-month:

Anna Clyne (photo by Javier Oddo)

Anna Clyne (photo by Javier Oddo)


Britten Sinfonia presents ‘At Lunch Two’

  • St Andrew’s Hall @ The Halls, St Andrews Plan, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1AU, England, Friday 15th January 2016 – £3.00 to £9.00 plus booking fee – tickets
  • West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP, England, Tuesday 19th January 2016, 1.00pm – £3.00 to £9.00 – information & tickets
  • Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England, Wednesday 20th January 2016, 1.00pm – £11.00 to £13.00 – information & tickets

Programme:

Johann Sebastian Bach – Gott versorget alles Leben (from Cantata BWV187)
Domenico Scarlatti (arr. Salvatore Sciarrino) – Due arie notturne dal campo
Arvo Pärt – Fratres (for string quartet)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Seufzer, Tranen, Kummer, Not (from Cantata BWV21)
György Ligeti – Continuum
Anna Clyne – This Lunar Beauty (world premiere tour)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Tief gebückt und voller Reue (from Cantata BWV199)

Performers:

Julia Doyle (soprano)
Maggie Cole (harpsichord)
Jacqueline Shave, Miranda Dale (violins)
Clare Finnimore (viola)
Caroline Dearnley (cello)
Marios Argiros (oboe)

A pre-occupation with texture permeates this programme, beginning with two arias from the grand master of counterpoint, J. S. Bach. Ligeti’s ‘Continuum’ tests not only the limits of the soloist but also the exhilarating knife-edge between hearing individual notes and continuous sound. A world premiere from Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music, Anna Clyne, whose music seeks to explore resonant soundscapes and propelling textures, completes the journey from the baroque to present day.

* * * * * * * *

LUME, whose London jazz and free improvisation events I tracked during 2015, are continuing to expand their efforts. While they seem to have found themselves a more regular slot at the Vortex, early 2016 shows are taking place at assorted venues around the capital – galleries, shops, any suitable space. The first of these is in a heavy-duty experimental record shop in Kentish Town, which – although it’s only a short walk or bus hop away from the ‘Misfit City’ flat – I’ve not noticed up until now. I should visit it and go through my usual masochistic experience of being intimidated by serried racks of music made by people I’ve not heard of before; or perhaps I should just go to this show.

Hannah Marshall + Kordik Lucas (LUME @ Electric Knife Records, 16b Fortess Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 2EU, England, Saturday 16th January 2016, 1.30pm) – pay-what-you-like, £5.00 minimum

The first LUME gig of the year features a solo set from improvising cellist Hannah Marshall (whose collaborators have included Veryan Weston, Evan Parker, Lauren Kinsalle, Alex Ward and former Henry Cow members Tim Hodgkinson and Fred Frith), followed by a performance by the improvising duo Kordik Lucas duo (Slovakian analogue synth player Daniel Kordik and trombonist Edward Lucas, who also run the Earshots concert series and record label). This will be an in-store show so space is limited. There’s not much more information available on the evening at present, so keep an eye on the LUME and Electric Knife sites for updates (if anything new shows up, I’ll add it in here…)


* * * * * * * *

David Cohen (photo by Daniel Herendi)

David Cohen (photo by Daniel Herendi)

Finally, back to Norwich to drop in on a classical chamber music series assembled by acclaimed Belgian cellist David Cohen and assorted friends. Usually when I cover classical or modern classical concerts it’s because they feature premieres of new pieces or intriguing new interpretations and juxtapositions. While this one does feature a premiere (Gavin Higgins’ ‘Howl’) as well as a recent Michael Nyman string quartet from 2011, in this case I was intrigued by the venue – the John Innes Centre, a long-established plant and microbial research centre which lends its lecture theatre for these concerts. If you’re of an intellectual, associative and site-specific mindset, you can listen to the structures in the music unfold while simultaneously considering that you’re surrounded by the echoes of people thinking about – and unravelling the shape of – vegetable genomes.

Cello Con Brio ‘Magical Journeys’ (Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music @ John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UH, England, Sunday 17th January 2016, 7.30pm) – £1.50 to £25.50 – informationtickets

Programme:

Michael Nyman – String Quartet No. 5 (‘Let’s not make a song and dance out of this’)
Gavin Higgins – Howl (for solo cello & string quartet) – world premiere
Franz Schubert – String Quintet in C

Performers:

David Cohen (cello)
Henri Sigfridsson (piano)
Corinne Chapelle (violin)
The Smith Quartet (strings)

Music performed by the ensemble on the other two days of the residency (15th and 16th January) includes chamber works by Brahms, Arensky, Schnittke, Beethoven and Paganini – the full listing is here.

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More gig news next time, including shows by Laura Cannell, Ichi and Tom Slatter.
 

Through the feed – Lucy Claire ‘Collaborations No 1’ EP and London launch gig, plus ‘Tim Smith’s Extra-Special OceanLand World’ reissue

3 Jun

Lucy Claire, dishing it out (photo courtesy of This Is It Forever Records)

Lucy Claire, dishing it out
(photo courtesy of This Is It Forever Records)

Lucy Claire Thornton – currently better known as “Lucy Claire” – is a contemporary classical/ambient electronic crossover composer who counts Erik Satie, Peter Broderick and Bjork as influences, and whose work has been hailed as “brilliant, delicately-wrought sketches” by ‘The Quietus‘ and as “immersive and slightly disorienting” by New Music webcast station ‘Amazing Radio‘. She’s releasing her newest release ‘Collaborations EP No 1’ on This Is It Forever Records on June 15th: the same week features a launch concert in London promoted by Chaos Theory (the inspired crew who put on that Sweet Niche/Macchiana del Tiempo/What?! triple bill of fusion jazz which I reviewed last summer). Here’s what they have to say about this gig:

“(We are) excited to host this launch party for the first in a series of collaborations EPs from Lucy Claire, along with many guest performers. ‘Collaborations EP No 1’ will be available with unique handmade packaging at a reduced price at this event only, along with two download codes for remixes by worriedaboutsatan and Message To Bears…. This evening we will see Lucy perform works from ‘Collaborations No 1’, featuring (contributions from German singer/songwriter/producer) Alev Lenz and producer Bruised Skies.

Support will come from electronic classical composers Leah Kardos and Jim Perkins. Almost three years after we worked with Leah on the launch of her debut album ‘Feather Hammer’, we’re delighted to be back together. Tonight we will see bigo & twigetti label-mates Leah and Jim performing new collaborative material… as well as selected works from Leah’s second album ‘Machines’, a concept album with lyrics made up from cut up spam emails, which will feature singer Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz. We will also hear them perform new material by Jim (which will be released later in the year on bigo & twigetti) and re-workings of material from ‘Feather Hammer’.”

All three acts will be basing their performance around piano, electronics, and string quartet. The concert takes place on Thursday 19th June at 7.30pm, at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, and advance tickets can be bought here for under a tenner. For various frustrating reasons, I suspect that I won’t be able to attend this gig myself. Perhaps someone who’s reading this could go, and then tell me what it was like? (Not that I want to make you feel like interns…)

* * *

Considering that he’s still cruelly immobilised by the after-effects of the strokes that felled him six years ago (see ‘Misfit City’ posts passim, here and here), the voice of Tim Smith has rarely been heard in the land so loudly. The profile of his band Cardiacs has been stealthily growing (albeit through YouTube and nostalgic webchat rather than their much-missed live shows) and we’ve recently had or will have new or imminent releases from self-confessed Smith acolytes Arch Garrison, Knifeworld and Stars In Battledress.

Tim Smith: 'Tim Smith's Extra Special OceanLandWorld'

Tim Smith: ‘Tim Smith’s Extra Special OceanLandWorld’

Meanwhile, the core Smith-eries just keep on coming – this year’s already seen reissues of relatively rare Smithwork (Mr & Mrs Smith & Mr Drake or Spratleys Japs) and a deluxe double vinyl reissue of key Cardiacs album ‘Sing To God’ is due for July). At the end of last month, Tim’s mysterious label The Alphabet Business Concern also sneaked out a CD re-release of his obscure 1995 solo album ‘Tim Smith’s Extra-Special OceanLand World’. A typically arch and sinister ABC press release reveals all (well, not really… and all capitals are deliberate, or at least deliberately annoying):

“AN ANNOUNCEMENT! PLUCKY? PERHAPS. GIFTED? PERHAPS NOT. Nonetheless Tim Smith, in an unforeseen spat of hubris, took it upon himself to exclude his so-called friends (acquaintances at best) to perform a collection of songs in isolation. Foolhardily believeing it may raise enough capital to barter his way from the labyrinthine clutches of obligation to which HE had previously agreed and to which, thankfully, he is bound to this day, in 1995 this solo album was release. Circumstance , of both design and fate have since rendered this ‘offering’ unavailable. UNTIL NOW. As if to mock his feeble attempt at emancipation THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN once again make available ‘OceanLandWorld’ with the proviso that the covenant can never be broken.”

Ducking under Alphabet’s theatre-of-cruelty bombast, the following actual facts can be dug up. The OceanLandWorld album was recorded by Tim on his own between 1989 and 1990, during a time of upheaval in the entangled world of Cardiacs. Three of the band’s key instrumentalists – Sarah Smith, William D. Drake and Tim Quy – had all either left or were about to leave, and at the same time Tim’s marriage to Sarah had ended. Next to nothing’s been said about this last event, and the other departures have always been described in a matter-of-fact way. In the long term, it seems that the baggy, unlikely, familial mass of Cardiacs-people (with their collective love of music and their sense of common adversity and purpose) managed to accommodate and contain the various splits and departures without lasting bitterness.

Still, although the suggestion in the sleeve-notes that Tim recorded and performed the ‘OceanLandWorld’ songs alone “by way of a penance” is a typically Alphabettian joke, there’s a certain rue to the tone of the album (not least when, behind a bouncy pop march, Tim sings cryptically about tears and about worms chewing on wooden people). Previously wrung happily through the efforts of other people, Tim’s songs are now being filtered through machines: check out those cascading sequencers and springy synth-bass whacks behind his reedy squawk and bustling guitars. Hardly surprisingly, there’s a slight pre-fab feel to the album. If previous Cardiacs albums sometimes felt like the scruffy, well-lived-in old houses in the band’s south-west London suburbs, then ‘OceanLandWorld’ feels like a race around a new satellite town: thin slivers of post-war history, new bricks and formica, a Toytown street plan.

That sense of uneasy rootlessness plays a part in this picture. Tim stutters out an album of faux-jaunty pop songs, without his musical family to push against and to be held by (even if Sarah does briefly return on one song for a gracing of saxophone). The familiar staggering, stumbling embrace of Cardiacs songs is replaced by a Scalextric skid. It’s to Tim’s credit that he somehow turns this into an asset: to these ears, ‘OceanlandWorld’ captures the giddy weightless of post-traumatic sensation, the impression that everything you are has been tossed up into the air like streamers and comes down spread-out and thinned-out, but still recognisably you. In the same way, familiar Cardiacs tics and inspirations work their way through the fabric of the album, with epic punky chorales and proggy vistas opening up like a junkyard requiem.

The album also features one of Tim’s most breathtakingly beautiful songs, Swimming With The Snake. The man rarely, if ever, even starts to explain what his songs are about, but this particular song communicates mysterious undercurrents of pain, loss and love with a rare and stunning magic.

If what you’ve seen, heard, and read here intrigues you, you can order the reissued ‘OceanLandWorld’ from here.

Lucy Claire online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Vimeo

Tim Smith online:
Facebook

Leah Kardos online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp YouTube

Jim Perkins online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Last FM

Alev Lenz online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr YouTube

Chaos Theory Promotions online:
Homepage FacebookTwitter Soundcloud

CONCERT REVIEW – The Bochmann Quartet (performing Keith Burstein’s ‘String Quartet No. 1 – ‘Dance Of Death/Dream Of Love’) @ Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution, Highgate, London, UK, sometime in 2002 (“rich, dissenting harmonies… the discolorations of love”)

28 Aug

Outside it’s a dark and rainy night in Highgate. Random and forceful, the wind lashes a miserable drizzle against the Highgate Lit and Sci’s bright white rational walls and skylighted roof. Sometimes, nature just cues you in.

Initially it seems perverse for the Bochmann Quartet to sandwich Keith Burstein’s new composition between two gems of classical string assurance (Mozart’s Quartet In G, K387 and Beethoven’s Quartet In F Opus 18 No. 1). As a latterday composer, surely Burstein’s work belongs with the moderns… whoever they are in these days of “post”s and “quasi”s.

But maybe not. Burstein’s “post-atonal” compositions are far from the deconstructed chance/hazard/subjective strategy of the varied Cage and Stockhausen traditions, from the shocking trills and tangles of Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle (one British compositional generation up) or even from the complex, angry clash of his near-contemporary Mark-Anthony Turnage. Also, his passionate defense of a renewed respect for traditional tonality suggests he’s spinning back towards the arms of classical music, where the breadth of human emotion can be represented in harmonious, resolvable tone colours; and where every piece contains all the pointers to a final flourish, a final satisfying closure of emotion before the dignified applause.

Well… not quite. The actual separation is made explicit by the Bochmanns’ assured navigation of Mozart’s enlightened equations beforehand, and by their stately walkthrough of Beethoven’s forest moods afterwards: each of them eminently satisfying. It’s not just the qualities of musicianship from all four players – committed and graceful throughout. It’s the way that those familiar pieces, rich in harmony and involvement, leave a pure satisfaction in their wake. In the face of jagged modernist upheaval and playful post-modernist scatter, our educated, structured culture still prizes its rationality: the patterns of classical music run through this, reassuring us that whatever emotions we go through, all will pass to resolution. Of all compositions, string quartets (as Bochmann cellist Peter Adams reminds us) were once considered the pinnacle of composed music – that which implies an ideal for living, for feeling.

Burstein’s String Quartet No. 1 (which sports, with an antique and near-mediaeval directness, the subtitle of “Dance Of Death/Dream Of Love”) reflects this particular ideal and its associated duty far more than does the dissonance and overt chaos of modernity and post-modernity. Yet as a composer Burstein remains too honest to simply copy the balance of classical music’s ideals. Marked by different times (when ideals are less easy to envisage, let alone achieve) this string quartet is rooted in an earlier Burstein composition – ‘This Year’s Midnight”, a choral meditation on the Holocaust. It draws on the bitter nourishment of bereavement; and of the splintered confusion when the rudder of faith snaps and incomprehensible chaos seems to have moved in for good. Contained in a shell of formal behaviour and formal tonality, it illustrates disturbance with diffident, insinuating elegance.

Movement 1 (Farewell) builds out of gently interleaving, swelling tonal planes – each instrument alternating through slow arcs of intensity, circulating restlessly. An elegy, for certain, but one in which decorum and dissension mix like the conflicting undercurrents of grief at a death. Complex emotions are hauled up skittering into the open; a disagreeing family protesting mutely and piecemeal at the funeral speeches, their disagreement only in betrayed by the shifting of tense shoulders and the blur of lips. Similar in its morbid beauty to the disturbed vigil-music of Billy Strayhorn’s Blood Count, Farewell is tolled to silence by Adams’ tense cello before Burstein conjures an aspirant, wounded passage with a translucent John Taverner frugality. Launched achingly upwards, it’s kept airborne by the Bochmann Quartet’s gritted bowing: both composition and performance feeling like the heroic efforts of straining birds’ wings.

As a counterweight – a celebration of ongoing lives and commitments in the face of loss – Movement 2 (Paradiso) is a wedding dedication. Filled with serenity, lofted on a bluesy cello arpeggio, its aspirational qualities are still shaded by rich, dissenting harmonies. Here, Burstein seems to have captured the discolorations of love. He illustrates its small perversities, the need for steering, the impossibility of a pure love in a troubled world, but the sheer necessity of striving towards it.

Keith Burstein: ‘String Quartet No. 1 (Dance Of Death/Dream Of Love’) – 2nd movement: ‘Paradiso’ (performed by The Bochmann Quartet)

The third movement, Animato Nervosa, seems to show the alternative – or what happens if loss and fear are allowed to overshadow life. Distracted and lonely, it suggests a neurotic correctness forever threatened by worry. The vivid spectre of collapse tugs constantly at its order and structure, the disturbance led by Adams’ increasingly aggressive cello lines. More brittle than the preceding movements, it’s also more obvious in its violence. The title is as much medical as musical – the dissension hovering in Farewell is ingrained here. It’s more personal, more destructive in the fierce shying of the melodies; and it’s here that the Bochmann Quartet show a darker mettle in the broken, conflicting string lines. As Adams delivers a final growling, twisted stab, there’s a tense pause; then Helen Roberts replies – and seals the movement – with a vicious snap of viola strings.

The fourth and final movement (Totentanz/Liebestraum) sees Burstein draw more sharply on the Jewish music in his background and on the collective bereavement which informed The Year’s Midnight. The nervous jazzy energy and cartoonish structures of Kletzmer folk music simultaneously energize the piece and seem to set it up for wreckage. In the rush of the dance, Michael Bochmann and Mark Messenger deliver bold violin strokes which grow gradually more and more frantic, almost leaping backwards onto each other’s toes. All is suddenly cut off, leaving all four musicians rocking precariously on the brink of a void. From here, the Quartet seem to be picking up pieces of music and attempting fearfully to rethread them on a sobre spine of cello. At last, love’s dream melody arrives – but as comforting as it is, it’s also shot through with trauma (not least by the return of the tolling cello from the first movement).

Burstein’s work is more tuneful and more polite than much of what we’re accustomed to from today’s abrasive, bullishly challenging concert-hall premieres. But in its mannered English way, it’s just as confrontational about the fears that beset us.

The Bochmann Quartet (Michael Bochmann) online:
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Keith Burstein online:
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