"Yesterday I listened... today I loved!"
Posted on: 13th May 2012
It’s been an epic few days across the Festival recently, ranging from intimate recitals to transcendental meditative states in Canterbury Cathedral.
Day seven on Thursday saw a lunchtime recital In Praise of Dreams with soprano Rhona McKail and pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam in their lunchtime recital, before the focus shifted out to the Turner Contemporary gallery at Margate for the world premiere of Les Malèdictions d’une Furie, a monodrama by John Croft performed by Loré Lixenberg. Prior to the performance, both Croft and Lixenberg appeared in conversation with Festival Director, Paul Edlin.
Friday’s lunchtime concert was a sonic exploration in the youthful company of the New Perspectives ensemble, in the chamber-ensemble-meets-electronics world of Jonathan Harvey’s Bhakti; young performers from the Royal College of Music, conducted by Timothy Lines, bathed the audience in the rich colours of Harvey’s unique and visionary soundworld. St Gregory’s was full to bursting for the concert, to the extent that festival assistants were having to put out extra chairs as audience members continued to arrive right up until the concert began.
The visionary nature of the day continued into the evening, as Canterbury Cathedral echoed to the sounds of John Tavener’s The Veil of the Temple, an large-scale meditative work for which the composer himself, in frail health, made the pilgrimage to Canterbury. Nigel Short led Tenebrae and members of the English Chamber Orchestra in Tavener’s epic, all-embracing pan-religious odyssey, which after its two-and-three-quarter-hour performance was greeted with rapturous applause. (The composer himself can be seen seated in the front row on the left in the photo below).
Yesterday’s events continued the journey into the stars, with Darrah Morgan Exploding Stars in works for violin and electronics, including the premiere of Jonty Harrisons’ Some of its Parts. Earlier in the morning, composer Frank Lyons ranged freely over an eclectic range of musical styles in a composition workshop. Top-brass came to the Festival in the evening, as the Grimethorpe Colliery Band (wryly observing on Twittter earlier in the day that they were en route to a ‘local gig’) came to the Cathedral with a programme including John McCabe’s Cloudcatcher Fells and an arrangements for brass of Holst’s The Planets, which, in its original incarnation as Paul Edlin observed, remains one of the previous century’s most influential works.
Against the backdrop of all this, the New Music in Britain conference unfolded in a series of papers and talks exploring aspects of the British contemporary musical landscape and papers focusing on key composers including Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies.
And it doesn’t stop there. There are still three days yet to come, with today’s celebration of Worldwide Mother’s Day in a feast of family events at the Gulbenkian, and a visit from legendary British jazz pianist Julian Joseph tonight.
Images: Peter Cook
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 7th May 2012
There was a choral theme to the third day of Sounds New yesterday, beginning with Sunday Mass at Canterbury Cathedral and two contemporary works from the Cathedral Choir; Jonathan Dove's Missa Brevis and Gabriel Jackson's setting of O Magnum Mysterium.
At lunchtime, the CoMA Ensemble London gave a concert at St Gregory's Centre, conducted by Gregory Rose.
The choral theme resumed in the afternoon, as choirs from around Kent amassed at Augustine Hall to present various contemporary pieces which they had been preparing, before coming together to perform sections of Paul Patterson's Magnificat, under close guidance from the composer. The massed ranks were joined by brass players, all under the baton of Festival Manager, Michelle Castelletti.
Yesterday's evening concert saw a visit from Danish chamber group, Ensemble MidtVest, exploring works by Per Norgard, Matthew Jones and John Metcalf.
Images: Peter Cook.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 26th Apr 2012
Gosh, Paul Patterson is a very busy man; catching up with Paul is something of a challenge, as he combines composing with a hectic schedule of teaching and travelling both around the country and abroad. I managed to do so yesterday when Paul was visiting Canterbury on one of his days teaching at Christ Church University, where he is Visiting Professor of Composition; the previous day, Paul had been teaching in Manchester; he recently attended a performance of his Magnificat in Paris, and on the day before the same piece is performed at Sounds New next month, he’ll be attending a performance in Swansea of his Little Red Riding Hood. A busy calendar...
Paul has been a significant figure on the British compositional landscape since the seventies, with a profusion of works ranging from a series of large-scale choral pieces to instrumental concerti, with youthful works such as the Sinfonia for Strings, with its bustling, energetic third movement full of rhythmic vitality;
His Mass for the Sea, written in 1983, combines movements from a traditional mass with reflections on the Biblical Flood from a variety of sources, and employs the bold structural device of replacing the usual ‘Credo’ with a meditation on the flood, full of high drama. Later works include Little Red Riding Hood for orchestra and narrator, the Cello Concerto, the Viola Concerto, and last year his String Quartet no.2; ‘Dances for Thaxted,’ using folk and dance melodies.
Formerly Head of Composition and Contemporary Music at the Royal Academy, Paul continues at the Academy as the Manson Professor of Composition, and is also the composer-in-residence with the National Youth Orchestra; as well as teaching at Christ Church, he is also Visiting Professor at the Royal Northern College of Music.
A rather rainy afternoon found us sitting in Paul’s office, where we talked about two of his compositions which are appearing at Sounds New this year; his Magnificat, which will be a part of the Choral Day on Sunday 6 May, and Timepiece, which the King’s Singers will be performing as part of the final concert in the festival, at the new Marlow Theatre on Tuesday 15 May. Commissioned by Sir David Wilcocks for the Bach Choir of London in 1993, the epic Magnificat is written for chorus, organ, brass and percussion and will be performed as part of a day-long celebration of British choral music, including amassed choirs from around the county. Timepiece, a commission from the King’s Singers in 1972, finds Adam getting into trouble when Eve sees him wearing a wristwatch, as Paul explains ...
To whet your appetites, here is the evocative ‘Sanctus and Benedictus’ from Paul’s 1983 Mass of the Sea.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 25th Apr 2012
Ahead of their concert in the new Marlowe Theatre on Tuesday 15 May, which will bring this year’s Sounds New Festival to a close, I put three questions to Jonathan Howard, bass with the group, who describes himself as ‘’twenty-five, six-foot five, brown hair, likes travelling and sushi, dislikes peanut butter,’’ about why the group is so excited about coming to Canterbury…
Tell us about your ensemble
The King's Singers have been around for over 44 years. There are just six of us - two counter-tenors, a tenor, a baritone and a bass - and we perform almost exclusively a cappella: that's right, no accompaniment, just the six of us on stage, and almost always with no amplification. Over the course of the 130 concerts in our 2011/2012 season, we've been all over the world, in venues including the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie and the Beijing National Concert Hall. Our repertoire is incredibly diverse - the group performs Renaissance polyphony and pop songs in equal measure - and contemporary music takes a prominent place in lots of our programmes. It's an honour to perform at the Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival in Canterbury next month, and to be able to share what we believe are some of the most exciting contemporary pieces in our repertoire.
What excites you about contemporary music?
Contemporary music is so exciting to us for a number of reasons. For a start, it often makes us question our established beliefs about music: as is so often the case in contemporary music, the harmonies and rhythms used are so out of sync with Western musical conventions, that we really have to think about what the piece is trying to say, and how it is trying to respond to its musical antecedents. Then there's the fact that many of the contemporary pieces that we sing were commissioned by the group for the group. It means that the voice parts in each piece tend to fit the voice parts within The King's Singers brilliantly, and the pieces themselves have really been designed to suit our ensemble. Finally, there's the fact that contemporary music is often pretty tricky - it's great for us to have music that we really have to sink our teeth into.
What can we look forward to in your concert for Sounds New next month ?
Well, it's a programme composed almost entirely of pieces that were commissioned for The King's Singers, by some of the great composers of the 20th century: Peter Maxwell Davies, John McCabe, Paul Patterson and former tenor in The King's Singers, Bob Chilcott. (We admit that Britten's ‘Choral Dances’ from Gloriana were not written for us....) And, following a first half of pieces that have been in our repertoire for a number of years, we'd like to present a piece that's new to us this year, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. A Rough Guide to the Royal Succession by Paul Drayton is a witty enumeration of the kings and queens of England, warts and all, right through from the seventh century to the present day, and it's an absolute delight to perform. We hope you enjoy it, as well as the rest of the concert, as much as we do, and we look forward to seeing you all in Canterbury on May 15th. We might even throw in a few contemporary pop songs, to make sure we're really sticking to the theme...."
Here’s the group in Chilcott’s lulling and beautiful arrangement of ‘Steal Away,’ in which the sumptuous added-note harmonies are matched by the group’s spot-on intonation and unity of ensemble:
To whet your appetite further still, here’s the group in John McCabe’s evocative and purple-hued Scenes in America Deserta, which is part of the all-British programme for their Sounds New concert.
More details about the concert at the new Marlowe Theatre on Tuesday 15 May here.
With thanks to Jonathan.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 20th Apr 2012
John McCabe’s work is appearing twice at this year’s festival; the King’s Singers perform his highly evocative Scenes in America Deserta at the Marlowe Theatre on May 15, and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band bring Cloudcatcher Fells to Canterbury Cathedral on May 12.
McCabe’s recording of the complete Haydn piano sonatas for the Decca label is a bastion of the repertoire on disc, and (as a part of my father’s ridiculously eclectic record collection) was my first introduction to McCabe, as a pianist.
(A review of McCabe’s Haydn in Gramophone magazine declares ‘McCabe is a reliable guide: alive to the range and variety of it, scrupulously musical, communicative even when the page would lead one to wonder whether there was much to communicate.’)
Commissioned by the King's Singers, to whom it is dedicated and who gave the first performance in Houston, Texas, in 1987, Scenes in America Deserta demonstrates McCabe the composer is in command of a beautiful harmonic palette, and wide-ranging tonal colours; the textural writing is sure-footed, and the use of parts of the text and particular syllables to create wordless vocal effects is highly evocative. As McCabe himself says of the work, ‘the main aim of the music is to convey an idea of the variety and fascination which desert country holds for me.’ (Chester Novello website here).
The colours that emerge at the phrase ‘Everything that is not shadow is brilliant incandescent white,’ after the eerie siren-like beginning, in particular are simply breath-taking; the text later speaks of 'an utter blue beyond question and almost beyond description...’ but the tonal palette McCabe uses to clothe the imagery in the words comes hauntingly and effectively close.
To whet your appetites, here’s the King’s Singers performing the piece at the BBC Proms.
Read McCabe’s commentary on Cloudcatcher Fells on the composer’s website here.
The King's Singers perform Scenes in American Deserta as part of their concert which closes this year's Sounds New Festival at the new Marlowe Theatre on Tuesday May 15.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 10th Apr 2012
Sunday Mass at Canterbury Cathedral on 6 May features music by Jonathan Dove and Gabriel Jackson, both of whom have become stalwarts of contemporary British choral composition.
Dove’s musical language is at once vibrantly new and yet instantly accessible in a way that doesn’t compromise its individuality or descend into the saccharine. At home whether writing for the opera-house, community music projects or church services (his sublime Three Kings was commissioned for the 2000 Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s), compositions such as And The Day manage to sound at once modern and yet ageless. His Passing of the Year has become a popular addition to repertoire for large chorus, with its scintillating tonal colours, vibrant rhythms and lucid word-painting unfolding in a song-cycle depicting the changing seasons.
Amongst Dove’s choral works, his Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars is a highly dramatic piece, with a dancing ostinato figure, which arranges a pentatonic chord into a sequence of rising fourths, in the organ depicting the shining stars, and an urgently repeating figure at the words ‘Seek Him’ from the choir. The piece exploits the tonal ambiguity inherent in a pentatonic set; initially organised to suggest A minor, by the end the set is re-aligned to create a tonal centre of C major, a brighter sonority reflecting the text as it turns ‘the shadow of Death into morning.’
A former chorister at Canterbury Cathedral himself, Gabriel Jackson has been composer-in-residence with the BBC Singers, for whom he has written such luminous pieces as the vivacious To Music and the quixotic Aeroplane Cantata for chorus and player-piano, an ode to the development of flight from Icarus to the aeroplane that, in its blistering, crazed player-piano accompaniment, is reminiscent of the music of Conlon Nancarrow. Jackson’s exquisite setting of O Sacrum con vivium, which is being performed at the event, is a masterclass in the slow unfolding of text, clothed with a beautifully sustained tonal language.
Jackson’s musical language is instantly recognisable, and his evocative harmonic palette has contributed to his rising star in the world of choral composition. His Edinburgh Mass, commissioned by St Mary’s Cathedral, combines plainsong-style monody with Scotch-snap inflections, rich harmonic colours and deft gestural writing.
The opportunity to hear pieces by both composers next month, in the majestic setting of Canterbury Cathedral, promises to be a memorable occasion.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 4th Apr 2012
With exactly one month until Sounds New bursts into life in Canterbury, we’ll be marking the countdown to the beginning of the festival with a series profiling performers, composers and pieces appearing throughout the season, beginning with Sir John Tavener.
John Tavener regards The Veil of the Temple ‘as the supreme achievement of my life and the most important work that I have ever composed.’ Huge in concept, and in its original form lasting for seven hours, the piece is in eight sections, or ‘circles,’ like a gigantic prayer wheel with each cycle ascending in pitch, such that the entire work represents a tonal ascent beginning and ending in C.
Since his arrival on the musical scene in the late 60’s, with his oratorio The Whale launching the birth of the London Sinfonietta, Tavener has managed to achieve the difficult task of writing modern music that has a popular appeal, as choral pieces such as Song for Athene and The Lamb attest, as well as The Protecting Veil for cello and orchestra.
Tavener’s music exists in a kind of transcendent tonal landscape, which, like the music of his deeply religious compatriot, Jonathan Harvey, seems to be hovering on the verge of revelation, of opening the door to a nether-realm towards which the music constantly yearns.
Tavener’s deeply religious convictions saw him wanting to write a pan-theological work that moves beyond one single belief to include eastern ideas; as Tavener remarks, ‘the music was deeply influenced by orthodox vigil services, but I wanted to go beyond Christianity and embrace Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism and the religion of the American Indians.’
Tavener’s vision for the entire piece is profoundly all-embracing:
''By the act of writing The Veil I understood that no single religion could be exclusive. The Veil has become light – there is no longer any veil. This tearing away of the Veil shows that all religions are in the transcendent way inwardly united beneath their outward form.''
Scored for soloists, large orchestra and a variety of exotic instruments including temple bowls and tam-tam, the version coming to Canterbury is the version the composer made to make it more readily able to be performed.
It’s become somewhat fashionable to deride Tavener’s music (perhaps, in part, a side-effect of his music’s popular appeal) as a sort of ‘Holy Minimalism,’ a glibly dismissive term which conveniently overlooks the profound convictions that have shaped Tavener’s writing and given them an unshakeable integrity. Tavener’s musical language may have a simplicity, almost a naivety, compared to the more complicated tonality of other modern composers, or indeed since his own more avant-garde works from the 1970s, but that should in no way detract from the wonderful translucency of his harmonic language. His music is capable both of an almost diaphanous delicacy as well as impassioned outpouring, each an aspect of his musical vision.
The performance of this epic work in the reverential surroundings of Canterbury Cathedral on Friday 11 May will surely be a memorable occasion; the composer himself will be present.
To whet your appetite for Tenebrae’s performance at the Cathedral, here’s the choir performing Tavener’s intimate and timeless motet, The Lamb.
*citations from the composer’s own website here.
Posted by Daniel Harding.