Category Archives: Now Hear This!

Music you should hear at least once…

Putting the fine in undefinable: the music of Graham Fitkin

Graham Fitkin‘s music first attracted my attention in 1998, when I came across an SPNM sampler disc containing a tantalising segment of Cud and a complete performance of Hook which all but took my head off. That was enough: bam, I was, well…hooked. I think I had those two pieces on the disc on repeat for the best part of a year, a blissful relationship only interrupted by my moving house and losing the disc.

His music defies those neat genre-defining labels that critics and music shop stockists love: classical, minimalist, techno, jazz. Combining repetition, polyphonic rhythmic inventiveness, sampled and electronic sounds and a tonal language glittering with bright colours, it’s a music that refuses to be neatly pigeon-holed.

I love the vibrancy of Hook; the driving rhythmic vitality, brash modern textural writing, and the sheer exuberance in the music that makes it infectious listening.

There’s something rather ‘X Files’-like about ‘Warm Area’ from Still Warm for harp and electronics (although that might just be my response to the tonal colours and the imagery of the accompanying video…!)

There’s exciting news about a new concerto for MIDI harp, premiered at the end of last month, with a sneak preview from BBC Radio 3;

Fervent. for solo piano, has a relentless energy to its ostinato-driven material. Last year, PK was commissioned for, and performed at, the BBC Proms; dealing with the first sending of Morse code signals from Porthcurno in Fitkin’s birthplace of Cornwall, the piece employs Morse code-inspired rhythms, blazing brass and big orchestral gestures occasionally reminiscent of John Adams’ Harmonielehre. Then there’s the contrasting intimacy of Skirting, for solo harp, with its evocative arabesques, or the bustling Vent for four clarinet or saxophone quartet.

Then there’s the minimalist electronica of K2, from Kaplan, that could almost be something by Aphex Twin.

Just listen to the way the music dances and shimmies in the advert for Uniqlo jeans: brief but utterly captivating, like much of Fitkin’s music there’s a wild urgency that cannot be denied, a delight in revelling in bright textures married to bold rhythmic gestures.

It’s compulsive stuff that luxuriates in the sheer joy of music-making. Is it classical ? Is it minimalist ? Or post-minimalist ? Or jazz ? Electronica ? Or all of them, or perhaps none ? Who cares… Keep an ear out: a new piece by Fitkin is always worth waiting for.

(Audio excerpts via LastFM).

Feeling All Rite? Frith-Hill unleash Stravinsky’s monster in lunchtime concert

Four-hands, one piano, one twentieth-century masterpiece ; internationally-acclaimed pianists Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith unleash Stravinsky’s monster, The Rite of Spring, at the Gulbenkian Theatre.

The first of this term’s lunchtime concerts on Monday 31 January in the Gulbenkian Theatre is an unmissable occasion: two of the country’s leading pianists grappling with Stravinsky’s notorious, barbarous tour de force. More commonly heard in its orchestral incarnation, the piece caused a scandal at its premiere in 1913; this is an opportunity to hear it in its piano-duo arrangement, which loses none of its vibrantly destructive energy.

The concert starts at 1.10pm.Admission free, suggested donation of £3.

If you can’t wait a week, here’s a clip of the last part played by Michael Tilson Thomas and Ralph Grierson…

See the department’s on-line events diary for further details here.

Furley Page logo
Sponsors of the Lunchtime Concert series

Satie: the Classical style gone mad

In 1917, amidst the latter stages of the horrors of the First World War, with the guns echoing over the disastrous offences in Ypres and Passchendaele, and the introduction of a new weapon by the British called the tank, Satie was writing his Sonatine bureaucratique.

Representing a return to the civilised values of the Classical period (and anticipating Stravinsky’s much-vaunted neo-Classical phase by three years), the piece also confronts those same values head-on and takes them apart. The work is full of forbidden ostinati, passages of needless repetition, and juxtaposed blocks of material in Cubist fashion. All these techniques serve to undermine a Classical sense of order and organic unity, where material is unified through a system of related keys and formal principles.

The piece parades a series of parodies and inversions of well-known Classical ideas, especially melodic material from Clementi’s piano sonata Op 36 no.1.

Yet, as listening to the piece proves, it’s all done with a sound Classical sensibility; texturally, Satie’s evocation of the Classical piano sonata is rooted firmly in the appropriate sound-world. But other rules have been overthrown: there are no formal development or recapitulation sections, the system of related keys has been usurped, and the Classical sense of never repeating an idea in exactly the same way is confounded by blatant, almost defiant, passages of repetition.

Erik SatieComposed in  1917, at a time when the rest of the world had gone mad with wholesale slaughter and  mechanised forms of destruction,  Satie’s evocation of the Classical period is a reminiscence of, almost a hankering after, an old order where unity and structure prevailed; at the same time, his usurping of its principles reflects the breakdown of society and its values which was going on around him: despite its apparent jocular tone, the shadow of the Western Front is never far away.

A turn to neo-Classicism was on the cards musically for others: Stravinsky’s Pulcinella would not appear until 1920. Debussy’s re-appraisal of Classical principles in the very late set of instrumental sonatas, of which he only lived to complete three of a projected series of six, still had its foot firmly in the Impressionist world. Satie’s neo-Classical sonatina represented a much more deliberate assessment of Classicism’s sound as well as its forms. Of course, he had already taken on Mozart (and won) in his Tyroliene Turque written four years before, parodying Mozart’s famous Rondo alla turca. But his appraisal and ensuing dissection of Classicism is much more involved in the Sonatine bureaucratique; it may be poking fun at Clementi in a similar fashion to his earlier ribbing of Mozart, but this is much more serious. It’s not just about Clementi, it’s about the very essence of Classical values at a time when values seemed to be disappearing everywhere else.

Eat your heart out, neo-Classical Stravinsky: Satie got there first.

Bartok’s Bluebeard: centenary year

2011 sees one hundred years since Bartok first began writing Bluebeard’s Castle, a dark and brooding masterpiece; begun in 1911 when Bartok was thirty, it was first performed in 1918. It’s his only opera, a one-act work in which only two characters appear on-stage: the secretive Duke and the inquisitive Judith, whose desire to discover what lies behind each of the seven locked doors in Bluebeard’s castle will eventually be her doom.

It’s a masterpiece: the visual element is so brilliantly rendered in the orchestral score that it almost makes a staged realisation unnecessary. The glittering yet bloody armoury, the sweeping views of Bluiebeard’s seemingly limitless kingdom, the dazzling treasury where the priceless artefacts are tinged with blood, the lake of tears – the music creates these scenes so well, you almost don’t need to see a stage production’s version: better to leave it to the imagination.

The arguments rage over whether Judith deserves her fate – her curiosity uncovers an ever-deepening nightmare as each door is opened, until the final door is opened to reveal all Bluebeard’s previous wives, whom she is to join – and the psychological or pyschosexual analysis of Bluebeard himself. Does Judith’s nosiness make her fate inevitable ? She knows Bluebeard is a private person, yet she seduces and wiles him into giving her the keys and letting her open each door: does she get what she deserves ?

You can see each act on YouTube: explore the dark and dangerous world of Bartok’s Bluebeard, and decide for yourself.

London Jazz Festival on Radio 3: Robert Glasper Trio

Robert Glasper

As I’ve mentioned over on ‘On The Beat,’ Radio 3 are currently broadcasting from the London Jazz Festival, and last night’s excellent gig by the Robert Glasper Trio is now on the iPlayer for a week.

Click here for more, including links to the programme, a review of the gig on the LondonJazz blog, and Glasper’s website. A treat for jazz fans. (The gig, that is!).

In memoriam: Henryk Gorecki

Via Alex Ross’ The Rest is Noise, an obituary by The Rambler‘s Tim Rutherford-Jones for Henryk Gorecki, who has died at the age of seventy-six.

Gorecki will perhaps be best remembered as the composer of the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs which leapt to fame in a recording by the London Sinfonietta and the soprano Dawn Upshaw, which is how I first came across it.

His choral piece Totus tuus probably comes a close second.