Category Archives: Now Hear This!

Music you should hear at least once…

A feast of contemporary music: Sounds New festival starts soon!

With just over two weeks until Canterbury is bursting with contemporary music, cast your eye over the events listings for this year if you haven’t already done so. The festival celebrates the music of the Baltic, with compositions and performers from countries including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania alongside a veritable banquet of contemporary works by other composers.

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge will be giving the UK premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Adam’s Lament in a concert in the Cathedral on Friday 27; Pärt is this year’s Guest Composer, and the same concert also features his Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten as well as Britten, Gorecki and Nicholas Maw.

Choral evensong earlier in the afternoon on the same day will include Pärt’s I Am The True Vine and Magnificat, with the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral directed by David Flood. Elsewhere during the festival season, there’s also a conference on Baltic music and musicologies, and papers on the music of Pärt in particular.

The BBC Big Band will be appearing in the Gulbenkian Theatre on Sunday 21 with Duke Ellington’s jazz-wise glance at Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, whilst the New Perspective Ensemble on Friday 27 presents music by Magnus Lindberg and Oliver Knussen. There’s also a premiere by the festival director Paul Max Edlin, and music by Sofia Gubaidulina, Poul Ruders, Ligeti, Sørensen, Nørgård and others. Some of the festival will be broadcast on Radio 3’s ‘Hear and Now’ series, including Glass’s Symphony no.3 for strings and pieces by Terry Riley and Pärt on Thursday 26.

This year marks the launch of Sounds New Poetry, and includes the University’s very own Patricia Debney, Senior Lecture in Creative Writing, in a discussion about the relationship between words and music called ‘Roundtable’ on Tuesday 24 at 6pm.

WIth a host of other events including poetry, workshops, film and talks, there’ll be something for everyone. Full details on the Sounds New website, or click here to download the flyer.

Stimulate your senses…

Elegance, a dance and a prayer: Brodskys at the Wigmore Hall

Brodsky Quartet
The Brodsky Quartet

If anyone missed their last performance here when they visited the University back in February, when they brought a flavour of the exotic to Canterbury – and given the packed Gulbenkian Theatre that night, there might well have been a few who couldn’t get a seat! – then you’ll be pleased to hear the world-renowned Brodsky Quartet is back in action again next month at London’s Wigmore Hall.

The group’s concert  on Friday 3rd June at 7.00pm includes two masterworks of the twentieth-century string quartet repertoire, as well as the chance to hear something slightly off the beaten track. The programme includes Ravel’s lyrically translucent and only String Quartet, Bartok’s mighty String Quartet No. 1, and Turina’s La Oracion del Torero, a little-known Spanish work coloured with the vibrant rhythms and harmonies of Spain.

This concert celebrates the release of the Brodsky Quartet’s new CD, ‘Rhythm and Texture’ (Orchid/Brodsky Records), which also includes a recording of Ravel’s sublime masterpiece.

As regular audiences and fans of the group will know, the Brodskys deliver their concerts with verve, passion, considerable flair and tremendous vitality – their February concert this year saw them in their usual fine form, and this concert is not to be missed!

Tickets can be booked on-line via the Wigmore Hall website here; download your copy of the flyer by clicking here (PDF), and catch up with the Quartet and their blog on their own website here.

Carousel rolls into town!

The University Music Theatre Society is gearing up for its annual extravaganza, which this year is the enduringly popular Carousel.

All aboard!

The Playhouse, Whitstable, will resound with famous and well-loved show-tunes including ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ ‘June Is Busting Out All Over’ and ‘His Name is Mr. Snow.’

These occasions are always fantastically realised, with sets, direction and performances of a high standard. Rehearsals have been underway for several weeks, and the run of performances will be a fitting finale to all the hard work the students have put in – on top of working towards their degrees!

Music Theatre Society President Lucie Nash reveals that she’s highly excited about the show; “I can’t wait to see how people react to Carousel – it has been such an exciting few months putting it all together and everyone involved has worked incredibly hard. I have an extremely talented cast and I know they’ll do Rodgers & Hammerstein justice. ”

The cast features first-years Richard Simpson playing Billy Bigelow and Dominique Chapman as Julie Jordan.

Performances start on Thursday 31 March, and run until Saturday April 2nd, including a Saturday matinee. Tickets are selling fast: get yours while you can on-line here!

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.